Following the gun proposal by DPS, the Minority Students Advisory Board (MSAB) asked the administration for a public forum. This request was declined three times.
MSAB staged a surprise sit-in at the faculty senate meeting, demanding a meeting on spot. The spokesperson gave a 10-hour deadline to decide on a date for a public forum. Now, there will be one after Thanksgiving.
Is this the right way to go about things? What was the administration’s reasoning behind not holding a public forum? Can the reasoning be justified?
According to University Senior VP and CFO Holly Crawford, smaller meetings are more productive than larger ones.
Fischer, in a reply to an MSAB email asking for a forum, explained that “participants do not feel comfortable expressing their thoughts” in larger settings.
On one hand, Fischer’s claim is defensible — forums bring with them their own slew of problems.
Even if we assumed that everyone present could comfortably express themselves, the sheer number of views may prevent any particular solution from being investigated in-depth. Time is distributed across a wide range of views instead of being funneled into one course of action.
On the other hand, a forum brings with it a number of unique benefits, which outweigh these costs.
The most important advantage of forums is diversity of perspectives. Forums are a way to address the problem at hand from a widely varying set of viewpoints. If you believe that more information is always good, regardless of the outcome, this is principally important. As a news publication, the principle of access to information is a tenet we firmly live by.
Minority students live in a more cautious, more uncertain world. And the administration needs to consider this when discussing the proposal, its intents and its effects.
Moreover, public forums enable an immediate response. If you say something that makes absolutely no sense, a larger number of people means there’s a higher chance of someone being present who’ll catch your errors.
Furthermore, forums could counterintuitively result in more individual-level expression rather than less. Although we considered that students might have greater reason to inhibit their views in larger settings, we must not forget the power of a crowd. Public forums lend the strength of numbers to any group seeking widespread support.
And how public should these forums be? The gun proposal greatly concerns the city community. The 19th Ward Community Association sees Public Safety “creeping into the city” (as its president, Harlan Ost, said in an email to the University) and encroaching upon their neighborhood. From their reaction, it’s clear that the proposal has caused a stir among community members and that they deserve an official, in-person outlet to voice their concerns, in addition to President Feldman’s meeting with the Association last Friday.
The University made the right decision in agreeing to a public forum. But it shouldn’t have taken them this long.