Low turnout for UD Trustees’ inaugural public comment session

Newark Post | by Brooke Schultz

For the first time, the University of Delaware allowed the community to talk directly to the Board of Trustees, holding a public comment session prior to the board’s semi-annual meeting Tuesday.

In order to speak before the board, individuals were required to fill out a form online at least 72 hours prior to the meeting. Individuals were given two minutes to speak, with a maximum of 10 minutes for the entirety of public comment.

Only two people took advantage of the new opportunity, which had been a long-standing request of open-government advocates.

John Morgan, a professor in physics and astronomy, discussed the university’s reputation as Princeton Review’s No. 1 party school, a ranking announced right before students headed back to class this fall.

Morgan noted that when students decide where to attend college, perceptions matter as much as reality, and UD should take steps to counter the ranking.

“Its methodology may be unscientific compared with the Harvard School of Public Health’s college risk behavior survey, but its rankings receive much more public attention, as did the notorious I’m Shmacked incident in September 2013,” he continued.

He suggested the university no longer allow a link between UD logos and alcohol, noting that at Grotto Pizza, there are posters featuring a blue hen and beer.

He also posed the possibility of surveying the undergraduates who have been arrested for “alcohol-fueled misbehavior” to find what their majors are.

“This information should be used in determining the budgets of colleges,” he said. “Keeping undergraduates busy with homework assignments to be done on weekends is the best way to keep them out of trouble.”

The other speaker was a representative from PETA, which has spent months criticizing UD researchers’ use of rats in experiments and has protested on campus before. Through much of the meeting, several protesters – one dressed in a rat suit – held signs.

“If UD aspires to be a leader in research, it must not only invest in modern infrastructure, but also make the transition away from archaic and ineffective animal models,” said Sara Britt, who spoke on behalf of the organization. “It should join the 21st century’s most forward-thinking scientists who focus on human-based approaches to studying diseases, approaches that replace animals such as the use of human cells, advanced computer modeling and clinical studies with volunteers.”

Despite the slim turnout, State Rep. John Kowalko, who has long been an advocate for a more open university, said the fact UD had allowed public comment is a step in the right direction.

“It’s important that they don’t feel confident that this small first step is going to eliminate the problem that I have, that the public has,” he noted.

He added that because the university accepts taxpayer money, he believes it should have to face the public and allow the community, as well as the faculty and students it serves, the ability to question its decisions.

“I think it has been a long-term policy that has discouraged participation. Now that the window has been opened, it will generate legitimate participation from the public, faculty and student body querying into what drives their decisions,” he said.

He said that this type of dialogue would be helpful for decisions the board of trustees makes, adding that members may have a certain level of detachment from the day-to-day goings on in the city and university.

Newark Councilman Chris Hamilton also praised the public comment session.

“I know I’ve been very loud about that, and persistent,” he said. “I give credit when UD moves forward. I think it’s a good step to opening the university to public feedback.”

Councilwoman Jen Wallace agreed, noting that there is still room for improvement, such as allowing day-of sign ups.

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