BY THE MICHIGAN DAILY
Published February 24, 2010
Ethical standards haven’t appeared to be the University’s strong suit lately. Allegations that the University violated NCAA regulations are damning enough. On top of the NCAA debacle, alum Robert Davis has filed a lawsuit against the University alleging that a closed-door meeting of the Board of Regents violated the terms of the Michigan Open Meetings Act. Though it’s not yet clear if the meeting was technically a violation of the law, the regents clearly weren’t as transparent as they should be. The Board of Regents makes important decisions that directly affect the University community and it has an obligation to disclose everything it discusses.
The lawsuit, which was filed last week, alleges that a meeting that took place on Feb. 3 in University President Mary Sue Coleman's private conference room was in violation of the Michigan Open Meetings Act. Davis claims that he was denied entry into the meeting, and that the regents have refused to release the meeting’s minutes. As reported by the Daily last week, University spokeswoman Kelly Cunningham has said that the regents haven’t done anything wrong in this situation. University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald has said that because the meeting was informal, it didn’t fall under the act’s jurisdiction.
The meeting in question was held to discuss the then-ongoing NCAA investigation of the University’s Athletic Department. The investigation aimed to discover if the football program had violated NCAA policies regarding limits on practice time. The University has since received official notice of allegations that five violations of NCAA rules occurred. Punitive action is pending.
It is ironic that the regents may have ignored state regulations in a meeting in which they were discussing whether student-athletes had violated NCAA regulations. And though the regents' intentions may have been pure, their actions seem like subterfuge. This type of exclusive and secretive behavior is damaging to the University’s reputation, especially since the issue at hand was potentially unethical behavior within the University. It would have been in the regents’ best interest to be frank and forthcoming about their handling of the investigation.
The meeting’s legality is still under scrutiny. And the University may have acted within the boundaries of technical law. But the regents certainly violated the spirit of the law. As a public institution, the University has an obligation to Michigan residents to be transparent about its decisions. That the regents thought that they should keep their discussion of the investigation private is troubling.
And the regents have a history of keeping their decision-making processes in the dark. They routinely vote unanimously for tuition increases without public debate and discussion, with the exception of the last increase, which two regents voted against. But the debate that often gets withheld from the public is valuable. And the University has a responsibility to include the community in its choices.
It’s likely to be quite some time before a conclusion to the lawsuit is reached. But regardless of the outcome, the regents should understand that their lack of transparency is unacceptable. The regents have a responsibility to the University and it is imperative that they be upfront about their actions.