OU board members and administrators hold meetings in Florida

Scott Davis, Rachel Williams, Grace Turner

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Several Oakland University board of trustee members and top administrators went to Bonita Springs, Florida from Feb. 4 to 6 as part of Oakland University’s annual Winter College event. 

Six of the eight board of trustee members and seven top administrators, including President George Hynd, made the trip.

According to the university, the meetings were a combination of cultivating future donors, soliciting donors ready to make a commitment now or in the immediate future and making stewardship calls to alumni and others who have donated to Oakland and are curious as to how the university is progressing. The university said the retreat allowed the trustees to have uninterrupted time to develop better perspectives on complex topics. 

At the meetings, Hynd discussed information on general trends affecting higher education and also presented his five- and 10-year visions of the university.

The meetings were closed to the public and many people in OU’s community were unaware of them taking place, including student liaisons to the board of trustees Annie Meinberg and Liz Iwanski, student body president Nick Walter and student body vice president Madison Kubinski.

“It gravely concerns me that the Board of Trustees is holding policy meetings that are closed off to the public. I expect, both as a student at Oakland University and as the primary representative of students here, that the Board will operate in an open fashion,” Walter said.

“Student congress does not support this.” Kubinski said. “OUSC will make efforts to have administration and the BOT be more transparent with how tuition dollars are being spent.”

Meinberg and Iwanski said they understand the purpose of the Winter College retreat and that it has the potential to bring in more donors to the university. What caught their attention however, was that our new chief operating officer attended the retreat as well.

“When the COO position was announced, it was meant to allow President Hynd the ability to travel and spread the OU story in the community while the COO would stay on campus and oversee projects and university operations,” Meinberg said.

These meetings have generated some negative press. The Detroit Free Press and Oakland Press wrote articles pointing out the cost of the trip, which was paid for in part by tuition dollars. The Free Press also accused OU of skirting the Open Meetings Act. The Detroit News ran an editorial criticizing the trip. 

“This administration retreat has clearly resulted in some unflattering press for OU and its Trustees,” said Ken Mitton, president of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) at OU, which serves as a faculty union. “As we live in Pure Michigan, and money is tight, we suggest that it would have been wise to hold this planning retreat in-state, even within Oakland County. Even give the conference business to our own conference facilities here on campus and in Meadow Brook Hall, or other venues available in Rochester, Auburn Hills or Rochester Hills.”

Mitton also said he has heard negative responses from students.

However, the university stressed that it is a point of emphasis to have the Winter College meetings out of state in order to give OU representatives the opportunity to interact and have conversations with alumni who may not have that chance if the event was in Michigan.

According to the university, there are over 25,000 alumni who live outside of Michigan, with 2,170 of those alumni living in Florida. 

Mark Schlussel, board of trustees chairman, said that many of the donors that are key to the university’s financial future are located in Florida. He said that because Oakland is such a young university and many of the graduates are not in their prime earning years, they rely on finding donors who make donating to the university a priority of their philanthropic activities. 

“It’s important for board members, as well as top administration, to interface with them. That’s why we attached this retreat to that,” Schlussel said. “We should be going down there anyways to be a part of the fabric of the university and to interface with donors because they want to see the leadership. That’s why we do it.”

The board members and administrators stayed at and held their meetings at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort and Spa. The rooms are $300 per night, but Schlussel thinks that it was necessary to attract the donors that can afford to write a check for the university.

“You can’t really set this up at a facility that’s less than what they’re used to being accommodated with. It would make sense at every level to do this,” Schlussel said.

On top of discussing future visions of the university and meeting out-of-state alumni, there were discussions of areas where new buildings could be constructed. According to the university, the retreat allowed those who are out-of-state to view OU from a distance and how they may engage and support the direction the university is heading.