On Thursday and Friday, seven members of the University’s Board of Regents joined with University President Mary Sue Coleman and other University officials in Los Angeles for a series of meetings. These meetings, which were private, took place in lieu of their scheduled public monthly meeting in Ann Arbor. During the trip, they were scheduled to discuss strategies for public funding and the prospects of massive online open courses, or MOOCs, as well as reconnect with California’s alumni network by hosting fundraising events. Despite the possible benefits resulting from the trip, it was unnecessary at this time and further distanced the public from the regents.

University regents traveled to California and met with Robert Birgeneau, recently retired chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley; Stanford University President John Hennessy; and Robert Berdahl, former president of the Association of American Universities. They discussed the future of academia, especially the lack of state funding. Like public universities in Michigan, universities in California have suffered from a crippling drop in state funding, with the state backing only 37 percent of the UC system in 2012. This meeting gives the University the opportunity to learn how to run a premier public institution with significantly reduced public funding. The regents also met with Dan Russell, one of Google’s top research scientists, who proposed that the University invest in Google’s MOOCs. According to Russell, MOOCs have the potential to create a competitive market for teaching, giving the University an edge in innovative education.

Regardless of whether regents’ meetings are held in Michigan or California, they shouldn’t be closed to the public. The regents are publicly elected, and the public should have the opportunity to voice their concerns. In a given year, the regents hold 11 meetings, but as a result of this meeting, there will only be 10 in 2013. Rick Fitzgerald, a spokesman for the University, said that the switch from a public meeting to a private session is due to “scheduling issues.” More of an effort should have been made on the regents’ and University’s part to make this meeting available to everyone. The University has a responsibility to keep their students involved and well-informed, and moving one of the monthly meetings across the country creates a disconnect between the regents and the public they serve.

While in California, the regents will attend two alumni events as honored guests. While the events aren’t technically fundraisers, the regents plan on engaging with alumni in the Golden State in order to encourage giving back to the University. In an interview with The Michigan Daily, University President Mary Sue Coleman said the events will give an opportunity for the 40,000 alumni in California to meet with the leaders of the University, furthering trust in the University. While it’s important for the University to network and fundraise with alumni, visiting formal gatherings in lieu of a public meeting is misguided. The regents may be interested in building confidence with California’s alumni, but their primary job is to build that trust back in Michigan.

The trip does have laudable goals, from learning about state funding to possibly investing in MOOCs. However, it comes at the wrong time and sends a message of exclusion. The regents first and foremost need to be accessible to those whom they represent: students and the public. Private meetings in Los Angeles certainly don’t accomplish this.

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