Board transparency is long overdue
Published: Friday, June 3, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 17:11
This article did not appear in the print form of The Daily Campus' mail home edition to the class of 2015 as it was not approved by the administration. It would have appeared as issue 2 in the "Top 5 Issues at SMU" section of the paper.
It is no secret that SMU is well on its way to becoming one of the best schools in the country. It is also no secret that SMU is a unique and worthwhile place to go to school. What is a secret, however, is almost everything done by the institution's highest decision makers – the Board of Trustees.
For years, SMU has ignored calls to increase the board's level of transparency. After it was discovered that the Board of Trustees authorized payments to football players resulting in the "death penalty," which SMU football is still recovering from, the United Methodist Church called for open board meetings to prevent such underhanded actions from happening again. It was ignored.
More than 20 years later, the recommendation has still not been put into effect. The result is a board that has largely ignored term limits for members (the term limit is 12 years, though the longest serving member has served on the board since 1976), has little diversity (the majority of the board is rich, white males) and rejects the idea that the student body should have any idea what is going on behind the board's tightly closed doors.
Last year, The Daily Campus released an article entitled "Board of Secrecy." In writing the article, the authors contacted Linda Pitts Custard, a board member since 2000, who said that questioning the board was a waste of time.
"Students need to focus on class and getting A's," she said. "As long as the school functions well, students need to not worry about how the board is run."
I, like the United Methodist Church, reject that viewpoint. The university was running fine in 1986 when the football scandal rocked the school. Nothing seemed out of place, and no students could tell that our entire football department was about to fall apart. But because of the board's secret actions, it did.
Who's to say this will not happen again given that no one keeps tabs on the board but the board itself?
While SMU does allow a student board member, and while I am sure that Adriana will do a fabulous job, she has to take the oath of secrecy just like every other member. She may be our voice in that room, but unlike every other student representative at SMU, she is unable to speak to her constituents about the decisions she is making.
To ignore the viewpoints of a student body that is paying almost 50,000 a year to attend school at this venerable institution is mind boggling. It is my hope that this year, things will be different.
Jessica Huseman is a journalism and political science double major. She is politics editor of the Daily Campus, and interim editor-in-chief for the summer of 2011. She can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor's note: Adriana Martinez has been asked to discuss transparency of the board as the student representative to the Board of Trustees. We will link her response here as soon as it is received.
Jessica's response to the block of her article can be found here.