Campus Free Speech

The Free Press Is Suing UMich For Routinely Violating Open Meetings Law

In the last year, the regents voted on 116 public matters, and only 8 of those times were there any dissenting votes.


University of Michigan
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Michigan law requires public officials to hold formal meetings out in the open and allow citizens to attend. Despite this requirement, the University of Michigan Board of Regents routinely conducts its affairs behind close doors, away from public scrutiny.

It is assumed that the regents and the president actually debate matters at these secret meetings. At the (sham) public meetings, the regents almost always vote unanimously in favor or against whatever proposals are on the table—with little debate—lending credibility to the charge that the real decisions are being made elsewhere.

In the last year, the regents voted on 116 public matters, and only 8 of those times were there any dissenting votes.

The Detroit Free Press has filed a lawsuit against the university:

According to the lawsuit: "These numbers establish clearly that the Regents do, in fact, routinely discuss the issues they must decide, and do routinely make their decisions about the University of Michigan's governance, all behind closed doors, out of the public's view, without public accountability, and in violation of OMA and its Constitutional obligations."

"We don't believe it's acceptable that the public is essentially cut out of these meetings," said Free Press Editor and Publisher Paul Anger, "considering the law and the bedrock idea that the public has a right to understand how such an important public institution conducts itself."

U-M spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said Friday afternoon university officials have not seen a the lawsuit and declined comment.

The regents also held meetings out of state, another violation of the law:

The Free Press lawsuit also alleges that U-M regents — unlike any others in the state — violated the Open Meetings Act by holding sessions in California and New York in January for the past two school years.

"The Regents' meetings in New York were pre-planned, quorum, organized meetings to gather information and deliberate toward decisions on the future of the University of Michigan," the lawsuit argues. "The OMA … requires that, 'All meetings of a public body shall be open to the public and shall be held in a place available to the general public.'

"The Regents' actions have denied the public the right to be present during the discussion of matters that are of great importance to the University of Michigan and to the taxpayers of the State of Michigan."

U-M is the only university to hold board meetings out of state, and Free Press attorney Herschel Fink said that U-M is the most flagrant violator of the Open Meetings Act.

Earlier this year, Fink told a state House committee that U-M is a "serial abuser of access laws."

If administrators want to run their universities in the manner that corporate boards run companies, perhaps they should wean themselves off the taxpayer dole first.