As an incoming college student, one of the questions that I was most frequently asked — up there with which classes I signed up for and where I was living — was whether or not I had bought football season tickets, and if I was excited for the season to start. Some asked rather ironically — my all-girls high school didn’t have a football team, and unless you counted skiing, sailing or lacrosse, I never really cared much for sports. But some, maybe most, asked with genuine excitement, eager for me to experience what was, in their view, one of the best parts of life as a University of Michigan student. Before I even arrived on campus, I understood the privileged place that football held at the University.

Things have certainly changed since then. A series of high-profile mistakes resulted in glaring media pressure and student protest, and ultimately, the resignation of former Athletic Director Dave Brandon. But that’s not what this column is about. Enough has been written already about the trials and tribulations of Michigan football. Univeristy President Mark Schlissel, in an earnest though decidedly awkward recent talk, put it rather well. “If we had won Nobel Prizes this year, we wouldn’t have gotten as much attention as did our A.D.,” Schlissel said. “It’s sad but it’s really true.”

The public scrutiny that naturally follows an athletic program as big and profitable as ours, intensified by a lackluster season, prompted relentless information-gathering and commentary on a traditionally opaque organization, revealing key institutional flaws. This pressure is rarely, if ever, applied to other areas of University administration. The public just doesn’t seem as interested in playing a watchdog role on, say, the Board of Regents or Office of Undergraduate Admissions.

But in terms of their effect on student experience, these groups are just as important. Yet, just like the Athletic Department’s well-documented lack of transparency — deleting e-mails before they could be accessed by a Freedom of Information Act request and adjusting ticket prices and policies without student input and insight in the deciding process until after the fact — the University itself has practiced its own brand of opacity.

But, I can’t give you the same kinds of examples for the University. It’s possible that the Board of Regents, each individual academic department, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions and other University bodies hide from students’ evidence of mishandled situations similar to the way that the Athletic Department has. We just don’t know, because the information isn’t available or easily accessible. Whether or not the University is actually doing something wrong, our limited ability to know, in itself, is a problem.

In July, The Detroit Free Press filed a lawsuit against the University for its alleged violation of the Open Meetings Act, which requires the regents to meet publically to formally vote. While the regents do hold public meetings, the Free Press called into question the use of private meetings to actually decide things, before formally voting, referencing their data that of 116 things voted on between January 2013 and February 2014, 12 were discussed by the regents at these meetings. The regents’ failure to include the public in important decisions is problematic regardless of whether or not they are technically violating any laws.

By failing to include the public — or at the very least students and faculty — in major decisions, the regents and other University governing bodies are guilty of the same mistakes that probably contributed to some of the Athletic Department’s poorer decisions. When students aren’t informed about administrative decisions, there’s no way for them to voice their opinion and concern. There’s no dialogue, no exchange, no input. At its very best, the administration is actively perpetuating an information problem between itself and its students; at its worst, the University makes itself appear as though it has something to hide. Either way, the lack of transparency makes it difficult for students to exercise any informed oversight of their school.

And maybe students don’t want to anyway. It’s possible that students may not care to voice concern over issues that don’t involve nationally televised sporting events. I’d have to guess that this isn’t the case. The student body is distinguished in its high levels of engagement. In the past year alone, we’ve seen protest over the University’s role in international security (or human rights, depending on how you want to view it) and environmental issues. There have been protests about the handling of sexual assault cases and the experience and admission rates of racial minorities. Deeper access to the information surrounding these issues could have furthered debate on these issues, or given rise to debate on new issues altogether, allowing students to assume an even greater role in addressing problems that undoubtedly color their college experiences.

It’s time that the University draw back the curtain on its decision-making processes and shed light on the rationale behind its policies. The University is an incredibly large organization that performs a huge array of functions, and governing it is more complicated than students often give it credit for. But despite the impressive research, high-tech development and lifesaving procedures that occur at any given time at the University, the school serves a more basic purpose for its more than 40,000 students: it is the framework within which their entire college experience will take place. Prioritizing those students means allowing them input and access to information on decisions made by the University.

Victoria Noble can be reached at

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