Russi Watch: Keeping track of his promises and holding him accountable

Four months ago, WXOU Radio general manager Erik Anderson started a campaign to get Oakland University President Gary Russi to appear as a guest on his show, “The Erik Anderson Program.”

He even created a blog called “Dr. Russi Log” that tracked his efforts.

On Nov. 30, 2009 — 11 days after Russi held an open forum with faculty — Anderson launched “Russi Watch,” a segment on his show where he and Kay Nguyen, The Oakland Post’s Campus Editor, followed promises Russi made at the forum.

On Monday, the show opened up the way it always does, with the theme song to “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

But this time, there was no science fiction. Russi was on the program.

Russi and Anderson discussed the promises Russi made at the forum and the progress that’s been made since, as well as OU men’s and women’s basketball and the Micah Fialka-Feldman case.Prior to the forum, Russi had been labeled “elusive,” but he said it only appears that way because he’s always off campus fundraising, lobbying and partnership building on behalf of OU for the capital campaign.

The campaign, the first in OU’s history, had a target of $110 million dollars. It ended this year, a year ahead of schedule, and raised a total of $112 milllion.

Russi said cuts in state funding have made such fundraising necessary.

“At one point, just a few years ago, state funding was 75 percent of our general fund,” Russi said. “And today it’s a little over 22 percent.”

Still, Russi has promised to become more transparent and open up more direct lines of communication.

One measure was to open the leadership seminar, “which has been restricted to leaders, but now it’s open to anyone who wishes to come,” Russi said.

Another was to open up the administration corridor in Wilson Hall, where the west doors are now open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day.

The budget process and the way faculty procure software for their classrooms are also being streamlined, according to Russi.

“The general council’s office should not get in the way of academic progress,” he said.

Russi reiterated that it’s not in his power to establish faculty liaisons, but said he’s dedicated to facilitating communication between administration and faculty.

In response to protest over his unprecedented 40 percent salary increase in 2008, Russi donated $100,000 to the university.

It was a one-time donation, but Russi gives money to the annual fund and matches gifts given to departments up to $5,000 every year.

“If you give $5,000 to WXOU, you would get another $5,000 from the office of the president for WXOU,” Russi said.

Anderson and Russi also discussed the Fialka-Feldman case and the university’s subsequent appeal of it.

“For me, it’s not about Micah, it’s about the principle. And it’s this principle: the University should have a right to judge who should be permitted in their programs and in their housing and so on,” Russi said. “So the appeal is based on that.”

OU’s new medical school was another hot-button issue brought up at the November forum. The medical school, which is partnered with Beaumont Hospital, is in the process of filing for initial accreditation. Once that’s received, Russi said the doors should be open fall 2011.

Anderson went on to discuss with Russi OU’s men’s and women’s basketball seasons.

Russi expressed hope that both teams end up in the NCAA tournament.

In December 2009, Russi appeared as a guest columnist for The Oakland Press, writing about the good year OU had in spite of Michigan’s tough economy.

“I thought we had a very fine year despite the challenges, and I expect to have a similar year this year despite even greater challenges, particularly with state funding,” Russi said.

The show then turned to lighter matters as Russi went over his typical day, which involves waking up at 5 a.m., going to the gym and then meeting with people “on the hour every hour.”

Anderson then addressed various rumors he had heard about Russi and OU, including one about Matilda Wilson agreeing to donate the land for OU to be built only if they don’t have a football team.

“That is a myth … I asked one of our attorneys to go to the state house and look at the founding documents … and there is no such stipulation,” Russi joked.

He said the real reason is, quite simply, that it would be too costly.

To conclude the half-hour segment, Russi revealed his favorite meal: salmon and broccoli and water with lemon to drink.

To read Anderson’s “Dr. Russi Log,” listen to podcasts of “Russi Watch” and to listen to the full interview with Russi, go to

The Oakland Post will be sitting down with Russi on Tuesday, Jan. 19. Students can submit questions for him through The Oakland Post by submitting questions at 61 Oakland Center, e-mailing [email protected], or posting them at