Of Town Hall Meetings...
—David Waldstreicher, Faculty Herald Editor
The President’s recent town hall meetings with faculty have been very nice affairs. I mean that in every way.
They’ve been well planned and well publicized. They’ve covered important subjects and passed on information about athletics, the 20/20 plan, and sustainability to any faculty member who cared to attend (and an average of about sixty or seventy have done
But a “town hall meeting” is not a town meeting. The classic New England town meeting – still very much in operation – is an exercise in direct democracy. The people of a town gather together annually and actually make decisions – including laws.
It is also not the Faculty Senate, where the faculty’s elected representatives gather monthly. It seems that the recent profusion of town hall meetings is, intentionally or not, in part an attempt to create a different mode of publicity for the administration – perhaps an end-around the Faculty Senate. The Senate has this year, sought to limit the number and extent of administrative presentations at Senate meetings and devote more of the Senate’s time to deliberating, making decisions, and calling for action.
When the Huron Group was brought in quickly in January to consult about expected budget-cutting necessities, the Provost announced a “town hall meeting” with the faculty so that their views could be heard. About seventy faculty came expecting to hear a presentation, as has usually been the case at the President’s town hall meetings. Instead we were told that we were going to do the talking, and the Huron specialists were going to do the listening.
Now we’ve come full circle: town hall meetings are for faculty as well as administrators to be heard. I was proud of my colleagues at the Huron town hall meetings: their ideas about the budget – and the process – were well informed and well considered. But there is a big difference between meetings where ideas are aired, and processes that guarantee faculty representation and input. Town hall meetings feel democratic: after all, anybody can get up and say anything. But the ones we have seen have certainly not been any more representative than the Faculty Senate. And they should not substitute for our elected, representative institutions, which are one of the things that make us more than employees following orders.