Detroit Free Press exposes secret university board meetings; Rep. Tom McMillin proposes constitutional change

The Detroit Free Press took on the issue of secret board meetings by the state’s 15 public universities in its Sunday, March 30 edition. Michigan’s public university boards figure they’re exempt from the state’s Open Meetings Act due to a state high court decision involving the search for a president of MSU back in 1999 (Federated Publications, Inc. (Lansing State Journal) v. Board of Trustees of MSU, 594 NW 2d 491, 460 Mich. 75). Rep. Tom McMillin (R-Rochester Hills) has proposed legislation that would bring the issue to the voters as a constitutional amendment specifically subjecting Michigan’s universities to the OMA. It would be a welcome change of behavior. University boards do most of their work in secret committee meetings, pre-meeting, lunches, dinners and retreats. All issues, questions and concerns by board members, as well as most of the discussion, is done at these session keeping the public out. The OMA was intended to allow citizens to watchdog their government at all levels to make sure they are operating in the public interest. With reductions in state support leading to skyrocketing tuition costs so universities can balance their budgets, its students and their parents who foot the bills. Kudos to McMillin who has emerged as the legislature’s most ardent advocate for open government with his bills to improve FOIA and OMA. And kudos to the Free Press, higher education reporter David Jesse and columnist Stephen Henderson for bring this important issue to public notice.

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