College officials and student government delegates often claim that they promote full transparency to the student body in their everyday business practices. Yet, how much of this holds true? For example, CUNY Queens College has several administrative boards that govern its finances, but meetings of these boards occur quietly and behind closed doors. Are they being fully transparent with students and faculty as to how funds are managed at Queens College? The Knight News conducted thorough research to find that Queens College may be in violation of New York City’s Open Meetings Laws.
NYC’s Open Meetings Laws mandate that public bodies, i.e. student governments, make their meetings accessible, via advertising those meetings and allow for the public to view records of past meetings, otherwise known as “meeting minutes.” Given that Queens College falls under the banner of the City University of New York, a New York City funded institution, the NYC Open Meetings Laws apply to QC.
The Open Meetings Laws lay out the following requirements: Firstly, public notice of meetings scheduled a week in advance, or earlier, must be sent to news media and conspicuously posted 72 hours prior to the meeting. Secondly, notice of the time and place of a meeting must be posted on the website of the public body (in this case, the public body would be QC), in accordance with the first requirement previously mentioned. Lastly, minutes (i.e. record) of meetings of all public bodies shall be available to the public in accordance with the provisions of the Freedom of Information Law within two weeks from the date of such meeting.
The Knight News has failed to find any evidence fulfilling the first two of the aforementioned requirements. This conclusion was reached by conducting research in the following manner: An in-depth, detailed examination was done of the Queens College website, the official Queens College calendar, as well as a search across the Internet. The webpage for the QC Office of Finance and Administration revealed meeting minutes for only a few meetings from this past year, which were for the College Association and the Student Services Corporation, but none for the Auxiliary Enterprises Corporation. However, The Knight News failed to find a meeting schedule for any of these boards or any records of past public notices. It’s also worth noting that The Knight News had to request an invitation to these administrative board meetings, despite what the laws state.
Student government officers work alongside college administrators and serve on three major administrative boards that govern the university’s finances. Those three boards are the Student Services Corporation (SSC), the Queens College Association (QCA) and the Auxiliary Enterprises Corporation (AEC). The first, SSC, manages student activity fees and revenue from the Student Union building on campus. The second board, QCA, manages student activity fees that pertain to student life (e.g. club budgets). The third board, AEC, provides auxiliary enterprises, such as food services, a bookstore, parking, etc., for the benefit of the Queens College students, faculty, and staff.
The NYC committee on open governance’s legislative declaration, indicating the purpose of the Open Meetings Laws, states, “It is essential to the maintenance of a democratic society that the public business be performed in an open and public manner and that the citizens of this state be fully aware of and able to observe the performance of public officials and attend and listen to the deliberations and decisions that go into the making of public policy. The people must be able to remain informed if they are to retain control over those who are their public servants. It is the only climate under which the commonweal will prosper and enable the governmental process to operate for the benefit of those who created it.”
As a result of The Knight News’ investigation, the Queens College administration will now be uploading the dates and times for all administrative meetings on the Queens College calendar. It remains to be seen whether or not they will actively comply with NYC open meeting laws and advertise administrative meetings in a timely manner.
At the time that this article was written, The Knight News has reached out to the Office of Finance and Administration and Student Affairs and has received no comment, other than a notice of updating the webpage for the Office of Finance and Administration.