New president: Closed searches perfectly legal

The Oakland University Board of Trustees is currently in the midst of a search for the university’s next president. The appointed search committee has made few details public and that’s perfectly legal. Closed searches for university presidents in this state are protected by a 1999 ruling by the Supreme Court of Michigan.

The case, Federated Publications Inc. (The Lansing State Journal and The Detroit News) v. Board of Trustees of Michigan State University, basically exempted searches from the Open Meetings Act. The decision came down to two main factors: Candidates’ right to privacy and the government unlawfully infringing on the board’s power to maintain a public university. 

The case, prompted by a series of candidate withdrawals during the 1992-93 MSU presidential search, went through a trial court, to the court of appeals and was officially settled by the Michigan Supreme Court in the ‘99 decision.

The court decided that the Open Meetings Act has little influence on public universities. It concluded that when a public university is searching for a president, candidates that who do not request confidentiality must partake in public meetings. 

In 1995 The Oakland Press filed a lawsuit against the OU BOT for secret presidential searches. This was the same year President Sandra Packard resigned and Garry Russi was appointed Interim President. 

In May 1995 Oakland County Circuit Court judge Gene Schnelz ruled that presidential searches were to be made public under the Open Meeting’s Act. This caused the termination of the presidential search. The university appealed this decision and Russi remained the Interim President. 

On April 11, 1996 the Board of Trustees voted to appoint Russi president of the university. No further search process for a president was made public. In 1997 the State of Michigan Court of Appeals upheld the decision to have presidential searches open to the public. 

The Court of Appeals decision, however, was voided due to the 1999 Supreme Court decision.