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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Trustee Task Force Meets in Secret

Students cool their heels outside the closed Trustee Task Force meeting. - Photo by Dylan Seo
Students cool their heels outside the closed Trustee Task Force meeting. – Photo by Dylan Seo

A group of concerned students and professors was locked out of a February 12 meeting which brought together members of a “Trustee Task Force” and a group of invited guests from the university.

The Trustee Task Force was created by the Board of Trustees after allegations of poor race relations on campus following a series of events including the resignation of former College of Public and Community Service Dean Ismael Ramirez-Soto and the arrest, and alleged assault by campus police, of Africana Studies Professor Tony Van Der Meer last spring.

The Task Force is to “…determine whether current campus climate provides the type of encouragement and support that is necessary if the campus is to continue to meet its strong commitment to diversity,” according to an e-mail circulated by a group of concerned students just days before the meeting.

Students and professors arrived at the Provost’s Conference Room on the eighth floor of Healey a short time before members of the Task Force and their invited guests. The meeting was slated to begin promptly at 11am, at 10:30 a pair of campus police officers arrived, joined by two more at 10:45, and the four began turning students and professors away from the door.

Those entering the meeting were approached by students and handed a statement detailing their “deepest concern” regarding the secretive nature of the meeting and demanding that a public meeting be held in two weeks’ time and “[t]hat the community be made aware of developments in this investigation” and “receive a full report at it’s end.”

The only student present inside the meeting was Acting President of the Undergraduate Student Senate, Fritz Hyppolite. When asked about the meeting, Hyppolite said he was “very pleased with the fact that they were here and with what they were doing” and that the meeting was part of “the university affirming its position in accepting, celebrating, and promoting diversity at this campus.”

Dr. Robert Johnson, Chair of Africana Studies, called the meeting a “gross violation of academic freedom, of the first amendment right of freedom of assembly, and the first amendment right of freedom of speech.” Johnson went on to say that the closed meeting was serving to “perpetuate an atmosphere of discrimination and retaliation” adding that the “most serious violation is the violation of academic freedom and goes against everything that a university is supposed to be.”

Many left out of the meeting cited the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law, which requires meetings be public unless sensitive information is to be discussed. A loophole allowed this meeting to be closed, since it’s a “task force” and not a committee and therefore not subject to the open meeting law.

Tony Naro, who was present outside the meeting, said, “We agree with their investigation. However, we disagree with the process that they’ve undertaken thus far.” Naro said he hoped the investigation could continue with the inclusion of the entire community.

Hyppolite also criticized the task force’s process, saying that it would have been better if the Board of Trustees had made the mission of this task force known to the community. Hyppolite added that the senate’s Campus and Community Affairs Committee will hold town meetings to discuss some of these issues, that way he can bring UMB community concerns to the next task force meeting.

As he was exiting the meeting, Trustee Karl E. White responded to the angry students outside who questioned the legality of the meeting, “What I love about public universities is that they are a haven for conspiracy theories.”

White also said the task force has “no master plan” and told the students that their proposal might be discussed at the next meeting.

The Mass Media attempted to contact others who were present at the meeting but received no immediate replies.

About the Contributor
Natalia Cooper served as news editor for The Mass Media the following years: 2001-2002; *2002-2003 *News writer Gin Dumcius filled in as news editor for Spring 2003 before returning to their writer position. Disclaimer: Years served is based on online database and may not detail entire service.