I wasn’t allowed in.
Neither was anybody else who wasn’t invited – no press, no students, no faculty.
When The Bulletin received word a few weeks ago that the governor would be on campus to talk about his alleged support for higher education, we assumed, as student journalists on a public campus, that we’d hear what he had to say.
We were wrong.
I received an email last Thursday afternoon from Gwen Larson, assistant director of Marketing and Media Relations, letting me know the meeting with Brownback was “private” but that media could attend a press conference immediately after to ask questions for five to 10 minutes before Brownback had to be whisked away to his next engagement.
Immediately, I questioned whether or not the meeting could, under Kansas law, indeed be a private one. I asked Larson to cite the exemption under the Kansas Open Meetings Act that the university was invoking to close the meeting. The next morning, I was informed that the meeting was not, in Larson’s opinion, subject to KOMA. An hour later, Kevin Johnson, university council, echoed Larson’s response. Neither the offices of Attorney General Derek Schmidt or Lyon County Attorney Marc Goodman returned my calls.
On Friday, I waited with the other press outside the meeting room in Cremer Hall. Inside, behind closed doors, were President Michael Shonrock, Regent Mildred Edwards, the President’s Executive Cabinet, all the deans and a handful of other campus leaders – 26 attendees altogether.
At the press conference after the meeting, I expressed to Brownback my concerns about KOMA and the meeting and asked why it needed to be private. Without even a pause, Sara Belfry, Brownback’s deputy communications director, said she would be happy to answer my question after the conference. As much as I hate to admit it, I was effectively silenced by a Brownback lackey.
Regardless of the legality of the meeting, I have to ask – what was so “private” that it had to be said behind closed doors? What did our governor – and our university – have to hide?
Why on earth would anyone allow a meeting regarding the future of students to take place anywhere but in a public forum? And why is everyone so afraid to stand up for our right to know?
Brownback’s plan for higher education is a priority for us. Receiving the information through a filtered press conference, where Brownback could tailor it to his own, questionable agenda, is not acceptable.
Emporia State owes its students more than that. Allowing our university to be bullied into Brownback’s own terms when he visits our campus is a cowardly and shameful act.
For the most part, I’ve been proud to be a Hornet for the last three years. Our university fosters award-winning creativity and research. And yet, what kind of message has our administration sent by submitting to “the big bad wolf” once again?
I can only hope that the next time Brownback steps foot on this campus, we tap into our inner Hornet and refuse to remain the silent masses. If we don’t, we deserve whatever government we get, including secret meetings.