Higher Ed Meeting should be Open to Public

from THE IDAHO STATESMAN, May 17, 2005 – “Our View”

Higher ed meeting should be open to public

Important people – many of them elected – will meet behind closed doors next month to talk about higher education.

The topic will be two campuses in Idaho Falls. The discussion has clear local implications: It could shape satellite campuses in Boise and perhaps Boise State University’s Nampa community college.

Yet Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, who decided to bring together a who’s who of politicians and educators, is promising them a private venue to talk about a publicly funded higher education system.

That’s inappropriate and unnecessary.

Inappropriate because the topic deserves a public airing. The framework of higher education – which school offers what program, and how the state avoids duplication – is important. The issue is particularly gnarled in Idaho Falls, which has no stand-alone college but two taxpayer-supported facilities located across town from each other. Students can attend Eastern Idaho Technical College or, on a satellite campus, courses from University of Idaho or Idaho State University.

Unnecessary because public officials should feel free to kick public policy ideas around in public settings. If they are afraid to discuss public policy freely before the public, they ought to retire from public service.

It’s a no-brainer to talk about how public institutions in the same city ought to operate without overlap. Idaho needs to expand a community college system that ill-serves students and employers across much of the state. It cannot afford to squander money on duplicative programs at any satellite campus – be they in Idaho Falls, or Boise or Nampa. All taxpayers have a stake in open discussion.

There’s no good reason to allow county commissioners, City Council members, legislators, State Board of Education members and university officials to meet behind closed doors. Kempthorne “wants them to be able to talk freely and get some solid conversation going,” his spokesman, Michael Journee, said Monday.

This kind of argument has never made the case for secrecy at any level of government. The people on Kempthorne’s guest list are powerful, opinionated public officials. They don’t need a cloak of secrecy.

Journee said he unaware of anyone who requested the closed meeting. The ground rule evolved as Kempthorne’s office started to put the meeting together.

The meeting is tentatively scheduled for June 22. Kempthorne has ample time to set a date and open the doors.

Editorial from The Idaho Statesman

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