Monday, January 13, 2014

Frankfort paper calls Kentucky State's 'gag order' outrageous, at odds with a university's mission

This editorial from The State Journal in Frankfort is published in its entirety because the newspaper's editorials are behind a pay wall.

A gag order is a means, usually issued by a court, for restricting information from being made public.

A judge may not want sensitive information from a closed hearing to be discussed publicly, may need to protect the privacy of victims or minors, or may feel it necessary to keep trade or military secrets from being revealed.

Negatively, however, gag orders may also be used as a form of censorship to limit freedom of expression or freedom of the press.

State Journal editorial cartoon by Linda Boileau
Unbelievably, a type of gag order is apparently in existence at Kentucky State University after being discussed at its Board of Regents meeting Wednesday in Lexington.

Regents discussed that if approached by a student, staff member or faculty member, they should refer them to KSU President Mary Sias, who will in turn speak to Board Chair Karen Bearden to place them on the agenda to speak at a future board meeting.

Furthermore, the board also discussed how to react when approached by a reporter wishing to speak to them about a dissenting vote on an issue. Bearden asked them to respond with “no comment” and inform her about it, so she could contact Sias about the best way to respond.

This discussion by a public university’s board of regents — at any college or university — is not only outrageous, but is completely incongruous with what we hope college students are being taught.

A majority of the regents are not employees of the university. While the board includes a faculty, staff and student representative, the other eight are appointed by the governor. No one is higher on the organizational chart than a member of the Board of Regents. They do not report to the university president, rather the university president reports to them.

A member of a school’s faculty or staff may feel so deeply about an issue he or she wishes to speak to a board member rather than an administrator. If the policy is to tell that person to instead speak to the university president, faculty and staff members would certainly be more reluctant to come forward.

Plus, they may wish to speak in private, not be placed as an item on a future meeting agenda.

The men and women appointed to university boards should be thoughtful, intelligent people. They have offered to serve in a leadership role at an institution of higher learning and they bring together diverse and varied views and backgrounds.

So we refuse to understand why they wouldn’t be allowed to speak — and more importantly wouldn’t want to speak — to faculty, staff or a member of the press.

We know we are outraged by the actions of the board and we believe others should be as well, among them the governor, the taxpayers, the faculty, the staff and the students.

The members of the Board of Regents are not appointed to be puppets and mimes. They are appointed to be independent thinking individuals willing to express their viewpoints.

There are important reasons why laws govern open meetings and open records, especially that the public has the right to know how its tax dollars are being spent.

Similarly, appointed and elected individuals should have every right to speak freely to those they oversee and those who report on their actions.

That the Kentucky State University Board of Regents would essentially decide to say no comment until they ask the university president how they should respond is a slap in the face of all that governing boards should be about.

We suggest the members of the KSU Board of Regents undo this ridiculous policy or let the governor find people willing to intelligently speak to the public that he can appoint to replace them.