Denton Record-Chronicle: Open Trump Jr. speech to media

Denton Record-Chronicle
Originally published Oct. 5, 2017

The Trump name wears controversy like a gaudy necklace. Sometimes it seems as if everything President Trump and his family do ends up as a subject for debate.

Such is the case with Donald Trump Jr.’s upcoming speech sponsored by the University of North Texas. The Oct. 24 event set for AT&T Stadium is the latest installment of the Kuehne Speaker Series, which is named after prominent Texas businessman and UNT donor Ernie Kuehne.

First of all, we have no opinion about who UNT and its Board of Regents invite to speak at a university lecture program. It could be a Trump or a Clinton. That’s none of our business.

But the university’s decision to bar media coverage of Trump Jr.’s speech is misguided and adds fuel to the fire surrounding his visit. What do UNT Board of Regents Chairman G. Brint Ryan and university fundraisers have to hide?

It’s unlikely that Junior plans to reveal any national security secrets at Jerry World.

The Kuehne Speaker Series is a private event. The Texas Open Meetings Act, which requires governmental bodies to hold their meetings in public, does not apply to the speaker series. But just because the university can legally bar media coverage of the event does not mean that it should.

A spirit of openness and inclusion needs to permeate every aspect of a public university.

We fail to see what is accomplished by barring television cameras and newspaper reporters from covering the speech. Maybe Ryan and university fundraisers think it’s cool to thumb their noses at the public, in effect saying, “This event is none of your business.”

It’s not cool and not smart.

More than 80 UNT faculty members have signed an open letter criticizing the choice of Trump Jr. as a speaker. And we suspect the student body is mostly against it.

This all puts UNT President Neal Smatresk between a rock and a hard place.

The Dallas Morning News reports today that Smatresk sent emails to faculty claiming he tried to stop the Trump Jr. speech, but failed.

No surprise there given that Ryan, the powerful regents chairman, recruited Trump to speak and is paying his $100,000 appearance fee. Smatresk found himself sandwiched between the conservative Ryan and liberal faculty and students.

Kelly Reese, a university spokeswoman, has asserted that previous editions of the Kuehne Speaker Series featuring the likes of Dallas business titan T. Boone Pickens and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani were also closed to the media.

Maybe. But so what? Neither of them is named Trump.

We urge Ryan and his UNT subordinates to reconsider their shortsighted decision to bar the media from the Trump speech. It would look just fine on NBC5 or the other Dallas television newscasts. And it would look good on our newspaper’s front page.

You can bet that someone will record it surreptitiously and that it will end up online as a grainy, tilted video that creates an impression of the event as some kind of meeting of a secret society.

For the life of us, why would a public university try to keep it secret and turn it into something sinister?