MUSC board’s faulty diagnosis

Protesters attend the rescheduled MUSC Board of Trustees meeting Sunday January 31, 2016 held in Colcock Hall. Grace Beahm/Staff

Is it really so hard to conduct the public’s business in public?

Apparently it is for the Medical University of South Carolina Board of Trustees. Or its members think so.

The trustees have tried more than once to hold meetings without notifying the public, as the law requires. And when they last did meet, on Sunday, they voted to restrict people who attend their meetings.

Board members would have passed new “rules of decorum” for meetings on Friday, but The Post and Courier protested, pointing out that due notice of the meeting had not been made, as required by law.

So the board met on Sunday, most via teleconference, apparently for the sole purpose of limiting the profile of Healthcare Workers United, whose representatives attend most board meetings, often holding signs and standing silently along the perimeter of the room.

The group’s mission is to call for higher wages, an improved grievance process and more diversity at MUSC.

The board cannot ban the HWU people from attending a public meeting, but it did agree unanimously to ban signs, and to bar anyone from approaching board members during a meeting.

Thomas Dixon, one of the HWU representatives, said the board is “trying to ... limit our freedom of speech and freedom of expression.”

A frustrated MUSC President David Cole said his administration has taken steps to include minority voices. The protesters have been invited to participate on a diversity committee. And five senior leaders at MUSC, out of 17, are black. That’s encouraging.

But if the board too were truly interested in hearing from diverse voices, it could take some simple steps:

It could meet in a larger room. Colcock Hall is not large enough to accommodate enough chairs for staff members and visitors. There should be no need for protesters to stand.

The panel could provide time on its agenda for public comment as other boards do. Each speaker could be given two or three minutes. And board members could respond with pertinent information.

Who knows? Perhaps board members would learn about things that need their attention — things that won’t fit on a sign, if, of course, people still could hold signs.

But it appears the board really, really doesn’t want HWU people there. It was so important to them that the board planned to convene members, who live across the state, for a special meeting to get “rules of decorum” in place before their next board meeting a week from Thursday.

The rules also say anyone who interrupts board meetings or uses profanity will be warned and then asked to leave — as if to suggest that people standing silently holding signs is akin to people interrupting and cursing.

MUSC has won national respect for its health care and research. It is a strong asset for the Lowcountry and the state.

The school’s board also should be exemplary — beginning with being transparent and following the law.