ctaMost interesting new student movement this year is the Coalition for Transparency and Accountability. Good stuff! EphBlog’s advice:

1) Focus this week-end on transparency rather than accountability. You can always come back to accountability at the next Trustee meeting.

2) With regard to transparency, focus on the general principal rather than too many specific examples. You want to get the trustees to agree to the following:

EphBlog’s Maxim #9: William should be as transparent about topic X as any other elite college unless the Trustees explicitly decide/explain otherwise.

Perhaps this could be worded better? The advantages of this focus include:

a) A clear rule. If Amherst or Harvard or Berkley are transparent about course ratings, endowment investments or faculty meetings, than Williams should be transparent as well. No need to adjudicate every possible topic ahead of time.

b) A default toward openness. The trustees have already committed to greater transparency. You want to make such transparency the explicit default unless there are compelling reasons to be secret.

c) A burden on the trustees. Your current proposal asks the trustees to do a bunch of work. That is a mistake. The trustees are busy people! They don’t need any more assignments. Instead, you want them to have to do work only if they block transparency. As long as Williams is transparent, the trustees shouldn’t have to do anything.

d) A strong standard. You don’t want Williams to be as transparent as other elite colleges in general or on average. The College could meet that standard by being more transparent than Amherst on topic X and less on topic Y. Instead, on each item separately, Williams must be at least as transparent as the most transparent school is on that topic.

3) Be collaborative. The trustees are your friends. They love Williams as much as you do. (Even if you don’t believe that, you should act as if you do. Such tactics are much more likely to achieve your goals than mindless confrontations.) In that spirit, you should compile items that Williams is less transparent about relative to peer schools. (Again, your advantage is that the trustees have already committed to transparency. You are, therefore, helping them to achieve the goal that they themselves set.)

My favorite example is student course evaluations. At Harvard, for example, students can read every comment that every past student has made (in the Harvard equivalent of our SCSS forms) about every class. Very transparent! Williams should be equally transparent. Another example is endowment transparency. Wellesley provides many more details about its endowment management than Williams does. That shouldn’t be the case. We should be at least as transparent as Wellesley. A third example involves grading. Middlebury provides more details than Williams does. There is no reason for that, assuming that the trustees are really committed to greater transparency. More examples under the EphBlog Transparency tag.

A copy of the current version of the CTA’s demands is below the break. Worth going through item by item?

A Proposal for Transparency and Accountability

Last year, the Board of Trustees held its first open forum with students in remembered history. While the Coalition for Transparency and Accountability appreciates this modest step toward improved communication and transparency, we demand increased and continuous efforts towards the full realization of this goal. One forum is not enough.

We seek a community that is responsive to the needs of its members. Such a community cannot exist without accessible and accountable decision-makers. Democratic forums allow us to show solidarity with each other, and enable us to address larger, systemic issues together. The CTA therefore proposes the following measures in order to ensure the transparency, accountability, and accessibility of the Board to the students, staff, and faculty of Williams College.

We propose:
1. That a rotating set of trustees hold consistent, open democratic forums every time they visit campus.

2. The repeal of the 50 year lock on meeting minutes and the release of all minutes in a timely and accessible manner.

3. That minutes be taken at subcommittee meetings and be readily available to all members of the Board.

4. That the current College Council presidents and Minority Coalition chairs will sit in on trustee meetings as student representatives. They will have the ability to add items to the agenda and present proposals and ideas from the student body.

5. That the Board of Trustees create and present a yearly report on the work of the Board that describes:
a. The Board’s major financial and investment decisions.
b. How the Board has considered and addressed students’ concerns.
c. Progress towards increased transparency, accessibility, and accountability, including the implementation of this proposal.

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