The University Record, November 23, 1992

Regents vent frustrations with Open Meetings Act

By Jane R. Elgass

Several Regents last week expressed their frustration with the search process for the selection of the new U-M-Dearborn chancellor. The Regents were not part of the process.

Noting that they had no quarrel with the selection of James C. Renick, they commented on the constraints imposed by the Open Meetings Act.

"To my knowledge, each of us has participated whenever any major administrator has been appointed," said Regent Deane Baker. "We did not participate in this selection because of the Open Meetings Act. I am a strong believer in public oversight and citizens should have the right to know. However, we should be able to meet those individuals who are going to guide the University and question them.

"The Open Meetings Act diminishes the process to the point of making regents and trustees inconsequential to discussions of serious issues," Baker stated. "Great injury has been done to the process of governing the University. We had no part whatsoever in Dr. Renick's appointment."

Regent Paul W. Brown noted that the Regents were hesitant to become involved because of current litigation involving the selection of President James J. Duderstadt.

"There was a risk involved in getting us involved in the search in any meaningful way. And, it's not just the Board of Regents who have problems with this. Michigan State University is having problems proceeding with its presidential search."

"The best process," Brown said, is one in which the meaningful part can be done in a non-public forum where tougher questions can be asked.

"Injury is done to the quality of the institution unless we can find a way to address the public's right to know and the candidates' right to privacy. I hope the court will provide a solution," he said.

Regent Shirley M. McFee said she was "disappointed in the constraints imposed" by the Open Meetings Act. "You can ask tougher questions and assess the variety and quality of the candidates" if the meetings are not open. "That changes considerably if done publicly. In addition, when it is known that individuals are under consideration, it puts their relations in an entirely different position in their current job.

"To entice individuals, we have to allow them confidentiality all through the process. Confidentially is of paramount concern."