The method behind the Board of Trustees

By Kevin Graham

The Board of Trustees approved $65 million in new spending Tuesday. Projects include financing the building of a new housing facility, parking garage and further development of athletic space in the Upper Fields.

Oakland University’s Board of Trustees is responsible for approval of the general fund budget, approving new borrowing from the state for capital projects, approving new degree programs and oversight of various university functions.

It is made of nine members, including University President Gary Russi.

The boards of control at state universities make key decisions as to the administration of their respective institutions, yet the source of their power and how they come to receive it is often a mystery.

The clause establishing governing boards at state universities is in a section of the Michigan Constitution that hasn’t changed since 1963 — seven years prior to the establishment of OU.

The Constitution provides for elected boards for the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University.

The Boards at the 12 remaining public universities in Michigan, including Oakland, are appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the state Senate.

Michael Boulus, executive director of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan, an organization that serves as a forum for the leaders of Michigan’s public universities to discuss important policy and financial issues, said he believes the difference is purely historical in nature.

“It’s in the Constitution that the three research intensive universities that had medical schools would have their boards elected,” he said.

Kurt Weiss, a spokesperson for Gov. Rick Snyder’s office, outlined some of the things that they look for in potential candidates for appointment.

“The process for gubernatorial appointment is done from a holistic approach,” Weiss said. “The goal is to find various skill sets, ages, genders, ethnic backgrounds, etc. to get the best and widest range of thinking for the board (for example, someone with IT background, someone with financial background, someone with education background, etc.).”

Weiss said he can’t recall a time when Michigan Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe) has called one of Gov. Snyder’s appointments before the body for confirmation.

Boulus said that in either case appointments can get political. Candidates for election are put up by political parties.

Candidates for appointment must impress the governor.

“On the other hand, the 10 that are appointed, one could argue that they are obviously political too, because they are selected by the governor,” Boulus said. “It’s done through a rather more participatory process.”

Boulus said, although it doesn’t always work this way, most of the time the appointments/elected officials work out for the institutions.

“Sometimes they work for you, sometimes they work against the institution,” he said. “By and large, most of the time, the selections are positive. I can say most of the time once the person is on the board, whether it’s an elected or appointed board, they take off their partisan political hat and work for the betterment of the institution and the students the institution serves.”