Civil activism we should all embrace

Published: 11/28/2008 12:00 AM

A pretty rare thing happened last week.

Maybe you missed it. Scores of College of DuPage students turned up at a board meeting to protest a significant revision to their school's policy manual they believed was going to be made without their input.

Wearing black tape across their mouths, they stood outside the meeting room's windows for nearly two hours while their elected leaders, teachers and community members questioned the proposed changes inside.

Proposals were in the works to raise tuition for some classes in smaller programs, to give control of the student newspaper to the college president and to put trustees in charge of curriculum, speakers and programs.

It certainly seems as if the proposals were going to concentrate significant power in the hands of the trustees and the president. That is rarely, if ever, a good thing at any level.

In an era when local government boards regularly act with only a lonely reporter or two watching, last week's provocative but respectful protest was refreshing and momentous.

"We the students under no circumstances will surrender our constitutional rights," student body President Allison Schraub told the trustees. Of course, we are champions of free speech and of a free press. Yes, even for student journalists who have advisers who typically are not college presidents. College and high school newspapers should practice responsible journalism. They are not meant to be administration house organs.

We also are champions of democracies, at all levels, of the people, by the people and for the people. We all should be.

That is why we fight for open government.

Shortly after the recent election, the American Society of Newspaper Editors joined eight other media organizations in supporting a set of guidelines its members believe President-elect Barack Obama and his administration should follow.

Those include: restoring a presumption of disclosure throughout the executive branch, creating an independent ombudsman to help citizens interact with their government, banning agencies from creating statutes that prevent them from being transparent about their activities and asking that Obama and all who work for him speak on the record about policy and public matters.

Sounds like common sense, doesn't it? But in Washington for several administrations now, it hasn't happened that way far too frequently. We need openness, sunshine, transparent government that works for us.

Dozens of College of DuPage students understood that last week. They stood up for themselves and acted.

COD Interim President Harold McAninch must have heard what was coming. He started the meeting by saying the board would delay action and work with campus groups.

As it should be. As it always should be.

What role models of civil activism

the COD students, faculty and community members were last week. We all should follow their lead.