UH System rejects request for UHV faculty meeting minutes

Carolina Astrain By Carolina Astrain

May 9, 2014 at 12:09 a.m.
Updated May 10, 2014 at 12:10 a.m.

The University of Houston System is seeking an opinion from the state attorney general about whether it is required to give the Victoria Advocate minutes from the University of Houston-Victoria Faculty Senate and Faculty Council meetings.

The Victoria Advocate is working with Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas attorney Bill Aleshire of Riggs Aleshire & Ray PC, of Austin, to draft a letter to the attorney general's office responding to the UH System's letter.

"As faculty members of a public university, they should be setting a better example of transparency for their students," Aleshire said.

Two months ago, the Faculty Senate met on a university holiday at the El Campo Public Library and gave former UHV President Phil Castille a no-confidence vote.

UH Chancellor Renu Khator ousted Castille from his position four days later.

The Victoria Advocate requested the meeting minutes to shed some light on what contributed to Castille's ouster. Earlier, Castille had spoken out against the UH System's plan to end UHV's ability to offer courses in Sugar Land.

The newspaper's request was rejected by the UH System. By law, a public body rejecting an open-records request must go to the attorney general for an opinion. The 45-day deadline for the opinion is June 9.

Castille said in an email that he supported efforts to make the documents public.

"Shared governance is all about respect for democratic processes," Castille wrote. "I respect the faculty's concerns and right to make a confidence vote within the Senate's bylaws. I see as unfair and invalid, however, that this vote occurred at an off-campus meeting with no published agenda, when UHV was closed for spring break and most faculty were unavailable for consultation. In this case, the Senate lost sight of its role as a representative body."

Ron Salazar, chairman of the Faculty Council and president of the Faculty Senate, could not be reached for comment.

Jeffrey Cass, Academic Council chairman and UHV provost, said he had no comment.

In previous interviews, when the Advocate requested to attend the next Faculty Senate or Faculty Council meeting, Salazar responded, "I'm sure you're a nice person, but you're not invited to our meetings."

According to UHV Faculty Senate bylaws in the UHV Faculty Manual, meetings "shall be open to any visitor except in cases where the privacy of an individual is likely to be at issue."

UHV assistant professor of philosophy Justin Bell, secretary of the UHV Faculty Senate, said, "Everything that I have that's required to turn in by our bylaws has been sent up through the process, and UH publicity will take care of the rest."

An anonymous source said the meeting minutes from the Faculty Council and Faculty Senate already have been sent to faculty.

"Everything has already been sent out to faculty in draft form for comment and corrections," the source said.



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