Russi open forum

Oakland University president Gary Russi held an open forum in the banquet room of the Oakland Center today to give faculty members a chance to discuss their grievances with both Russi and the OU administration.


Standing on his own with a lavaliere microphone, Russi made opening remarks before entertaining questions for an hour and a half to an audience of over 150 members.


The American Association of University Professors arranged meetings this week in order to plan what questions they would like to pose to Russi. 


A flyer was circulated through the audience outlining “changes that need to be made and direct actions required” and gave a list of “further essential questions.”


In addition to faculty, executive employees from the OU William Beaumont School of Medicine, members of the board of trustees, and students were in attendance.


Russi addressed “the number of issues expressed on this campus.” He spoke of his changing role as a university president during changing economic times.


“I work for a variety of constituents: you (faculty), the students, staff,” Russi said. “There is an expectation to raise resources for this university.”


He attributed this shift to a change in financial support to the school and cited his work with the OU capital campaign as a source of his support to academic affairs as well as his work lobbying at both the state and federal levels.


According to Russi, $74 million of the $111 million raised during the five-year capital campaign were allocated to academic affairs.


“I have sat in your shoes,” Russi said. “I understand the role of the faculty.”


He stated that he has also helped developed partnerships with a multitude of organizations to create opportunities for faculty research as president and said that there had been none of the “cuts, cuts, cuts” that other universities have seen.


Russi then went on to address other issues like his isolation from the rest of the campus, the unprecedented 40 percent pay raise he received in 2008, and the issue of a lack of communication between the faculty and administration.


“I can understand how that perception can be there,” Russi said of his separation from campus. “I spend enormous amounts of time … advocating for the university, but improvement can happen.”


Russi said that he would be opening up the “security corridor in Wilson Hall” in order to make him more accessible.


He then presented ways of strengthening the communication between faculty and administration. He said he plans on meeting with deans, department chairs, and the leadership of the AAUP “periodically” and also plans on opening up said meetings to “anyone.”


“I cannot express to you enough how much I appreciate what you do and what you (the faculty) are to this university,” Russi said as he opened the floor to discussion and asked faculty to share their concerns.


The issue of shared governance that was brought up during AAUP contract negotiations was once again discussed. Russi said that there was a role for AAUP in shared governance and considered it a “significant” one.


“I believe in shared governance: I support it, I’ll defend it,” Russi said.


In addition to the AAUP contracts, contracts for OU Campus Maintenance and Trade and the OU Professional Support Association were also approved at the last board of trustees meeting after contracts were expired for over a year.


One faculty member felt that there was a trend of extreme difficulty in bargaining.


“I would very much like to change the way we approach contract negotiations,” Russi replied.


He also went on to clarify that he would be meeting with department chairs and the AAUP “at least twice a semester” to better communication.


Russi called his 2008 40 percent salary raise a “flashpoint to create emotion” and said that he felt that faculty sentiment was right to do so.


“My response to that is: I understand it and we – my family – has decided to give $100,000 back to this university,” said Russi. “Because I believe this should not be an issue for moving forward.”


Another major point of contention during AAUP contract negotiations was the OU William Beaumont School of Medicine. During negotiations, AAUP, as well as The Oakland Post, filed Freedom of Information Act requests for copies of the medical school budget as well as the accreditation application filed by the school.


Russi said that all documents sought would be made available and be put in Kresge Library.


A variety of questions related to shared governance as well as the OU budget process were raised by faculty members.


Russi said that he would like to change the current budget process so that the question of where money is going is more easily answered.


“It needs to change,” he said. “And I respect that.”


The idea of having two faculty liaisons to the board of trustees was also presented. Though Russi has no direct control over the appointments, he committed to working toward working with faculty to give them direct interaction with the board.


The audience erupted into applause as representative for LGBT faculty, Tim Larrabee, criticized the president’s general counsel and rallied Russi for support of “queer” faculty.


Russi said he would look into an all-inclusive no-discrimination policy.


Audience members began to file out at 5:30 p.m. as Russi thanked attendees and asked faculty members to hold him accountable for all he said.


“I am available to you,” Russi said.