Editorial: Another week, another closed board of trustees meeting

Kristen Davis

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Oakland University administration has a history of acting in secrecy, and it appears that despite attempts from students, faculty and the community to convey to campus leaders that the lack of transparency is unethical, the trend continues.

The Detroit Free Press broke a story on Thursday about the university’s top administrators and board of trustee members taking a “retreat” to Florida.

The way the article was reported caused many readers to assume the university funded employees’ trips to Florida for what sounded like a mid-semester vacation, but it was later learned that the trip was taken to involve campus leaders in the annual Winter College event, which aims to bring together alumni and increase the number of university donors.

The Oakland Press reported that six trustees and seven administrators took the trip, but Chairman Mark Schlussel said sending 13 people was necessary because donors “want to see [campus] leadership.”

He emphasized to several media outlets that Oakland receives roughly $2,900 in funding per student, which is below the median $4,700 per student for public universities in the state. This was a reason for the 8.4 percent tuition raise over summer.

But, an alternate way the university can increase its funds is through alumni donations.

Therefore, Schlussel felt that the expensive trip was worth it because the university could see a benefit in the future.

It’s interesting to note, though, that Chief Operating Officer Scott Kunselman took the trip too. 

When this position was created, administration said Kunselman’s role would be to stay on campus and oversee projects and university operations while President Hynd went out to “tell the OU story.”

But, not only were the expenses from the trip, which included a multiple-night stay at a resort with a minimum room rate of $299 a night, covered by the university’s general fund, there also was another closed board of trustees meeting.

The meeting took place prior to the Winter College event.

No official minutes were taken, and according to Oakland’s communication and marketing department, Board Secretary Vic Zambardi “is planning to put together a summary document but has no hard timeline on when it will be completed.” Zambari suggested it may not be until mid-March.

Schlussel told the Oakland Press that the meeting was not subject to the Opening Meetings Act, which in Michigan, requires “certain meetings of certain public bodies to be open to the public,” along with notice and keeping of meeting minutes.

He said this was because “no decisions were made,” and instead the meeting consisted of “intense discussion” of university issues.

This statement is difficult to trust though, since in previous informal meetings like this, decisions have been made.

The creation of the chief operating officer position and the hiring process was done in informal meetings, with no input from those outside of either the board or university administration.

The decision to raise tuition by 8.4 percent was discussed with four student leaders, who said they were told to not speak publicly about it and weren’t offered the chance to provide much input anyway, just one day before the board’s voting.

The presidential search in 2014-15 was closed from the public for months until it finally opened when just three of the 11 candidates were left.

The events that have occurred during the last year have slowly eroded our trust in the decision makers of our university, and instead of fighting to gain it back, the campus leaders continue to lead us into the dark and make no adjustments to their actions.

It’s time the campus community speaks up. 

The Oakland Post will publish any letters sent to [email protected].

For those who wish to write directly to the Office of the President, letters can be mailed to 204 Wilson Hall. For those who wish to write directly to the board of trustees, letters can be mailed to 203 Wilson Hall.

The next formal board of trustees meeting is Feb. 22 at 2 p.m. in the Elliot Hall Auditorium across from Starbucks. 

These meetings are open to the public and anyone who wishes to address the board can submit a request to do so in writing or via email prior to the meeting or to a board office representative at the formal session. 

Requests should include the person’s name and/or organization, contact information and the subject matter being addressed. 

Email requests can be sent to Rhonda Saunders, general counsel/secretary to the board of trustees. Saunders’ email is[email protected].