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Opinion

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

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From the Daily: Opening the doors

BY THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Published July 13, 2014

Last Friday, The Detroit Free Press filed a lawsuit against the University of Michigan citing several alleged violations against the Michigan Opening Meetings Act. The lawsuit focuses on the behavior of the University’s Board of Regents and their meetings. In January 2013 and January 2014, the regents met in California and New York, respectively, in lieu of their monthly public meeting in Ann Arbor. This, alongside numerous questionable unanimous votes, suggests the University isn’t acting in accordance with OMA. The University and the Board of Regents must be more transparent with the public and stop directly violating OMA.

In 1976, Michigan established OMA with several provisions that limit governing public bodies’ actions and promote transparency with their constituents. Public bodies, such as the Board of Regents, must announce their meetings within 10 days before their first annual meeting, keep detailed records during meetings, hold meetings available to the general public and give time for public input.

The regents seemingly violated several of OMA’s provisions by holding informal discussions behind closed doors about University issues. From January 2013 to February 2014, the board only publicly discussed about 10 percent of the issues presented to them throughout the year. Similarly, of 116 votes, only eight saw a dissenting vote. It’s unrealistic to believe that the board unanimously decided so many issues — including renovations to several buildings, a major student housing project, renovations to the president’s residence and projects for the University hospital — without some sort of communication or conversation. These and other impactful funding decisions should incorporate public involvement and voices.

The regents further alienated the public by holding two meetings in locations outside of Michigan. Each year, the board holds nine meetings in Ann Arbor, one in Dearborn and one in Flint to discuss University-related issues. In January 2013 and January 2014, the regents met in California and New York, respectively, in lieu of their monthly public meeting in Michigan. Hosting sessions in other states eliminates public access and violates section three of OMA.

During the past few years, the Board of Regents has become increasingly exclusive. In October 2012, the University implemented a policy where a rope barrier was placed around the regents table separating officials from the public. Similarly, regents rarely give the public feedback on concerns raised by attendees. These actions promote exclusivity and distrust among the public. As millions of tax dollars and the tuition of students help fund the University, the regents must stop their secretive discussions and provide more transparency for everyone. University students and Michigan residents deserve to know exactly what the regents are doing with their money.


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