Michigan's public universities making decisions in private

Mar 31, 2014

The Michigan Union on the University of Michigan's main campus in Ann Arbor.
The Michigan Union on the University of Michigan's main campus in Ann Arbor.
Credit Andrew Horne / Wikimedia Commons

When University boards meet to vote on certain issues, the vote almost always goes through smoothly with little discussion and even littler debate.

According to Detroit Free Press reporter David Jesse, this is because our state's leading public universities (University of Michigan, Michigan State, and Wayne State) are sorting out any discord they might have behind closed doors. 

University boards are the only public bodies in Michigan that routinely meet in private, away from the scrutinizing eyes of the public. Only the formal vote has to be done in public, thanks to a university-friendly interpretation of the state Constitution by the Michigan Supreme Court 15 years ago that seemingly gives them immunity from the state's Open Meetings Act.

These decisions can range across a wide variety of topics, from tuition increases, to whom to hire as the next university president.

Students, faculty, and taxpayers aren't involved in the conversation until the very last moment, when decisions and plans have already been made and put in place. 

The Freep's examination of votes held at public meetings by UM, MSU, and WSU over the last year show how little discussion takes place: 

  • 279 total votes were held by these boards
  • 12 of those issues garnered any kind of comment from the board
  • 11 of those issues had at least one "no" vote

Jesse points out that the Michigan constitution demands that board meetings occur in public for what are called "formal sessions." The university boards argue that when they meet behind closed doors, these meetings are "informal sessions," and are exempt from the state's Open Meetings Act law.

The question is, are the private meetings just a formality to keep public meetings running smoothly, or are these university boards hiding vital information from the public?

David Jesse analyzes this question in his piece. You can read it here

– Paige Pfleger, Michigan Radio Newsroom