Keeping universities transparent

Proposal would require all meetings to be open to public


MARQUETTE — The Senate Oversight Committee on Tuesday heard testimony on a proposal requiring all meetings of public university governing boards to be open to the public under the Open Meetings Act.

Such boards currently are required only to open self-determined formal sessions.

If Senate Joint Resolution E is approved by a two-thirds vote of each chamber of the Legislature, the question would be presented to Michigan voters at the next general election for approval to amend Article 8, Section 4 of the Michigan Constitution.

“Increasingly, university boards are conducting business, and making financial and other serious decisions, behind closed doors during so-called informal sessions,” said Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, who chairs the committee and sponsored SJR E, in a news release. “As public bodies, many of whom are elected, these boards, which receive and spend taxpayers’ dollars, should be required to comply with Michigan’s Open Meetings Act.

“This resolution would increase transparency and accountability so students, parents and taxpayers can see decisions being made by those running these public institutions. These are the same principles our schools, towns, community colleges and the Legislature operate under.”

The committee hearing coincides with Sunshine Week, a national initiative to promote open government that occurs this year from March 10-16.

“I strongly support Sunshine Week and government accountability,” McBroom said. “The more we can make government transparent, the more accountable it will be to the people, and that can help foster a more trusting relationship, which is sorely needed.”

The committee is expected to vote on SJR E in the coming weeks, he said.

Derek Hall, chief marketing officer for Northern Michigan University, issued a statement on behalf of the board:

“The NMU Board of Trustees remains committed to transparency. Our formal meetings are always open to the public and all materials associated are posted online to be accessible to the public as required by law.

“We were pleased to hear Senator McBroom say he wants to have an on-going dialogue with Michigan’s universities as this legislative process moves forward.”

According to the NMU Bylaws, the board of trustees may meet in informal session at its discretion. The public may be permitted to attend informal sessions at the board’s discretion and under conditions prescribed by the board.

All formal sessions of the board of trustees are open to the public and held in a place available to the general public.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.