In September, the University announced heightened security measures would be implemented for Board of Regents meetings. Those attending the public meetings are now required to pass through metal detectors and bag checks before entering the room. A rope surrounds the regents’ table, separating the elected officials from attendees. While ensuring the safety of all in the University’s community is important, these measures distance the regents from the public, both physically and metaphorically. Open communication between the regents and the public — especially students — is crucial to the development of the University, and should be fostered in the regents’ monthly meetings.
The Board of Regents is responsible for managing the University’s budget, as well as major academic and property decisions. This power directly affects students. Whether the debate is over academics or athletics, students should be able to voice their concerns directly to the regents. At each meeting, time is set aside for public comment, but several speaking restrictions are in place and individual regents generally don’t respond to the comments at the meeting. This, along with placing a rope around the regents, creates an atmosphere of separation instead of one that promotes interactions between the students and those who in effect govern them. The regents should represent students, but these high-security measures suggest they aren’t making an effort to reach out.
The heightened security measures appear to reflect growing concerns over safety in public forums. These procedural changes are “part of our ongoing effort to enhance safety on campus,” according to a University press release. Yet these measures haven’t been extended to any other part of campus aside from monthly meetings with high-ranking officials. Other publicly elected boards, like city councils, haven’t set up this many barriers to public interaction. If Detroit’s city council can host public meetings without a rope separating leaders from the public, the University’s regents should be able to do the same.
Ensuring safety is important, but so is keeping the regents accountable. Despite their responsibilities, the regents are not any more important than the University’s students and faculty. The regents should be approachable and willing to listen to the people who are directly affected by their decisions. These meetings should serve as a means to increase dialogue between the public and the regents — placing the board on a pedestal won’t facilitate this.
For the 2012-2013 academic year the University has a budget of more than $6 billion. Though others may give input on how this money is spent, ultimately, the regents have final say on the budget. The University should make it a priority to allocate these funds properly and effectively, and in order to do that, the voices of students, faculty and general public should be heard. And if the University doesn’t feel these security measures should be toned down, then its commitment to its constituents should be questioned.