The University Record, December 17, 1996

'Compromise legislation' provides for some amount of confidentiality in presidential search process

By Jared Blank


Two bills passed by the state legislature last week will allow greater privacy during the search process for the leaders of Michigan's public universities.

Vice President for University Relations Walter Harrison says that the University is basically pleased with the two bills. One amends the Open Meetings Act and the other amends the Michigan Freedom of Information Act.

"It's compromise legislation," he says. "It's far from perfect, but it's a huge step forward. It provides two chief benefits for the University. First, it essentially codifies the pattern which we used in the last presidential search, with a confidential first stage and a public second stage. Second, it provides guidelines for future searches. Part of the difficulty with our past search was that there were no guidelines."

Under the new rules, there can be an advisory committee comprised of faculty, students, alumni, members of the administration and community members who will handle the initial screening of candidates in private. The committee also can include members of the Board of Regents. However, none of the groups represented on the committee can comprise a majority of the committee nor can a quorum of the Regents serve on the committee.

In the University's presidential search this year, Regents were barred from sitting on the advisory committee.

The committee may present five finalists to the Board of Regents, but the final selection of the president may not be made until at least 30 days until after the five finalists are announced. Individual universities will decide whether to announce the list of names considered by the advisory committee. Lee Bollinger's selection as president was announced 21 days after the disclosure of the four finalists.

All deliberations and interviews with the five finalists will be conducted in public. However, the legislation allows the Regents to examine recommendations and references that are not required to be made public.

Universities found to be in violation of the law are subject to a civil fine of up to $500,000.