open/closed meeting policies in academia


I just left a college curriculum committee meeting in which a major topic of discussion was whether we should continue our current practice of asking faculty proposing courses to leave the room while we conduct a closed discussion and vote on their proposals (after having had an open discussion with the proposer present). The meetings are not open to uninvited guests at any point.

For a year now I've been asking why we ask people to leave, and at the end of last year I asked that we have a chance to vote on the process this year. Today we had a discussion where my argument was that since curriculum discussions include no "PII" (unlike, say, a tenure committee), there's no reason not to allow the meetings to be open.

Several of my colleagues responded with counter-arguments. One was that members of a curriculum committee have a better understanding of process, which a "regular" faculty member might not appreciate or understand, and thus the committee should be able to have their pre-vote discussions without the presence of the faculty member. Another was that individuals tend to be deeply vested in their own proposals, and thus would have a hard time not taking criticism of the proposals personally--and that this, in turn, would put untenured faculty on the curriculum committee at risk if they criticized a proposal from a senior faculty member.

I have my own responses to these arguments, but I'm not going to share them here. Instead, I'm interested in knowing about other institutions' policies. Are curriculum committee meetings (and/or other committee meetings) typically open to anyone who'd like to observe? Are they closed by default, and open to invited guests for specific portions, or are they open by default, and closed only during specific parts? Are votes openly recorded? Are minutes of discussions shared?


Liz, While I don't have data on open and closed curriculum meetings, I think there is research to support the fact that better decisions are made when all valid information is shared and when true dialogue can be had. I applaud your efforts to include rather than to close and exclude voices. The closed meeting approach assumes misbehavior, a lack of an ethical weather vane, and an inability to listen to feedback and even to seek it. I think these assumptions need to be tested with the individuals they are being made about!
Good luck with this effort.

Interesting, Liz.

Our faculty adopted an "open meetings" policy when we adopted a new governance system two and a half years ago. We've also decided to use Modern Rules of Order, rather than Roberts Rules of Order - but that's another story.

In our governance all documents regarding course proposals, new major proposals, etc. are available to all faculty, and all faculty are encouraged to comment on the documents. All faculty are always welcome to participate in both the Senate and the Curriculum Committee. Sensitive discussions on issues of tenure and discipline are handled in Executive Session.

It seems to me that if curricular decisions are "too technical" for ordinary faculty, curricular decisions are too technical. Every faculty member has a stake, and as a stakeholder needs to be involved in curricular decision making.

What it really sounds like is that you have some faculty who are afraid to offer their genuine opinion on curricular issues, i.e., afraid to let those proposing new courses what they actually think of the new course. That's pretty sad.

I chaired curriculum committee at our institution, under the new, open meetings guidelines, and we had only three major bru-ha-has in two and a half years. It is a good system for getting all faculty involved, but not an efficient system. Three years out on a new academic honesty policy, and we still don't have the revisions complete.

My experience as a lecturer at college and a school teacher is that curriculum committee meetings are behind closed doors. Structured, minutes taken and officially documented curriculum committee meetings that i have been part of and ask for feedback on have no access for observers.

I have been asked a number of time through feedback forms about my opinion before a decision is final outside of a committee.

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