Judging from what Board President Rod Anderson said to Joplin Globe reporter Greg Grisolano, that appears to be the method the board will use to keep the public away from its discussions of the university's international program:
Anderson also said he would suggest to other board members to hold a retreat to discuss changes to the international mission, and what the board sees as the program’s future.
While the retreats are legal, in the past, they have been held in such sites as Branson and Springfield, which makes it extremely difficult for locals to attend, which is the whole idea.
And the discussion of what to do with the international program definitely cannot be held in a closed session, so this is as good a way as possible to keep the information away from the public.
Of course, it is hard to understand how a board that has made the case that the university's financial situation is dire can justify spending extra money to hold a retreat in some other town rather than having the meeting on campus.
In a 2005 Turner Report post, I wrote this following a retreat to Branson:
The Missouri Southern State University Board of Governors continued to snub its nose at patrons, students, and employees by conducting business at a retreat in Branson.
Though it could be argued that nothing major was discussed at the meeting, which has become an annual tradition, that is beside the point. Public meetings should be held at a place that is convenient for the public to attend. It doesn't matter whether the public would actually attend, what matters is that it is afforded the opportunity to do so.
It is not easy for a civic-minded person who wants to know how the Board of Governors is running the university to drive from the Joplin area to Branson to attend a meeting. The reasons for having the retreat are sound...from a business standpoint. It makes sense for the board of directors of a business to head to some scenic spot for a get-together and to recharge the old batteries.
That being said, boards that conduct the taxpayers' business are different. Their meetings must be open and accessible. It doesn't matter if 1,000 people want to attend the meeting or just one, all anyone who wants to see the Board of Governors in action should have to do is drive to the college.
A more recent retreat was held at the home of President Bruce Speck. I Wrote about that in the Jan. 11, 2009 Turner Report:
During its Nov. 21 "retreat" at Speck's home, the media was ushered into a downstairs area while Speck and the Board enjoyed a sumptuous meal.
Apparently, if the media had the temerity to go to Speck's home for a public meeting, they had to be punished, so Alexandra Nicolas, editor of MSSU's campus newspaper, The Chart, and John Hacker of The Carthage Press were guided downstairs by Dr. Speck and cooled their heels for approximately an hour and a half, while the board enjoyed its feast.
After about a half hour, Ms. Nicolas and Hacker were joined by the Joplin Globe's Melissa Dunson and several MSSU staffers, including Derek Skaggs, director of admissions; Rod Surber of public information, and Lee Pound, who also had to wait until the meal was finished.
Only then did the board and Dr. Speck deign to come downstairs and join those whom they had kept waiting.
Whether the board members discussed any university business during the luncheon is immaterial, though we have only their word that they did not, and quite frankly, that is nowhere near good enough. The Sunshine Law does offer an exception for social or ministerial functions, but if the university is in dire financial shape as Douglas and Dr. Speck have said, then let's forget about the socializing, get back to the campus, and brown bag it around a businesslike conference table.
In the Nov. 22 Turner Report, I criticized the scheduling of these board retreats. These people were appointed to represent the public and social outings are not necessary nor should they take place. Meetings should be held in a business setting that is easily accessible to the public. Dr. Speck's house, showplace though it may be, is not somewhere that someone from the general public is going to feel welcome while public business is being conducted. And while it is more accessible to the public than the Branson outing the board took a few years back, it is still a practice that needs to be discontinued.
Retreats are a bad idea. Conduct the public's business in a public setting.