A roundup of recent Michigan newspaper editorials

November 17, 2019 GMT

The Detroit News. Nov. 14, 2019

University board secrecy undermines public trust

The current showdown among board members at Wayne State University has brought the problems surrounding these elected governing bodies into sharp focus. The secrecy many of them have embraced has contributed to a lack of confidence in Michigan’s leading public academic institutions.

That needs to change.

While WSU is the latest to make headlines, other universities have also recently been in the spotlight. Michigan State University’s handling of the Larry Nassar abuse scandal and its aftermath rightly earned it national and international scorn — and much of that can be attributed to the board of trustees’ lack of transparency and openness.

Allies of Larry Nassar victims demand that Michigan State University restore the $10 million Healing Assistance Fund during a meeting of the Board of Trustees.

Allies of Larry Nassar victims demand that Michigan State University restore the $10 million Healing Assistance Fund during a meeting of the Board of Trustees. (Photo: Kim Kozlowski, The Detroit News)

A faction on Wayne State’s board of governors earlier this month took advantage of a secret, unannounced meeting — and an out of town member — to vote to oust President M. Roy Wilson, with whom they have multiple disagreements.

Wilson has the support of half the board, including board chair Kim Trent, and those members believe this vote was illegitimate because of the questionable legality of the meeting. Wilson says he’s planning to stay in his post.

But the fact the governors felt empowered to take the vote in this undercover way is alarming. Many elected board members come from the private sector and may not be familiar with the rules governing public meetings. Others just don’t care.

Most public bodies in Michigan are subject to the Open Meetings Act, which calls for government business to be done in public — with a few exceptions. Yet a 1999 state Supreme Court decision related to university presidential searches has been interpreted by university boards to apply much more broadly in regard to what they can do behind closed doors. Universities that used to abide by open meetings provisions widely stopped doing so. Therein lies much of the problem.

The Board of Governors and president Roy Wilson listen to public comment during a meeting at Wayne State University, in Detroit, March 20, 2019.

The Board of Governors and president Roy Wilson listen to public comment during a meeting at Wayne State University, in Detroit, March 20, 2019.

Jane Briggs-Bunting, founding president and board member of the Michigan Coalition for Open Government, says 20 years after that court decision, lack of openness on these university boards is “far, far worse.”

“Of all places in government, universities should be the most open and transparent,” she says, given higher education’s aim to promote free discussions.

Experts in state transparency laws say beyond an amendment to the Michigan Constitution clarifying how higher education boards should conduct their business, there isn’t a lot of room for recourse.

The state constitution gives the three flagship institutions — the University of Michigan, Michigan State and Wayne State — wide independence and treats them as a co-equal branch of government. That makes intervention by the Legislature limited, beyond applying budget pressure and raising public awareness of the problem.

And other attempts to challenge the current interpretation in the courts have proven unsuccessful in recent years.

The constitution says that “formal” university meetings should be done in public, but the boards get to decide what constitutes a formal meeting.

Universities’ interpretation of the legal precedent from 1999 has caused chaos and shaken the public’s confidence in state universities. A ballot initiative could be difficult to pull off, but it’s the best way to ensure long-term guidelines are put in place.

In the meantime, board members should take it upon themselves to abide by the Open Meetings Act. MSU Trustee Brian Mosallam has proposed his board do that. Others should follow suit.

Michigan taxpayers, who send about $1.5 billion a year to public universities, should demand it.


The Mining Journal (Marquette). Nov. 14, 2019

Real-life addressed in Vista production

It’s a topic that has come a long way in recent years but still has a long way to go: mental health.

The Historic Vista Theater is hosting a musical about that subject, the Pulitzer Prize and Tony winner called “Next to Normal.”

The production’s director, Leslie Parkkonen, shared this take on the musical: “What is so unique about this particular show is how audience members will find it easily relatable. Mental illness is far reaching in our communities and the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) states a whopping 45,000 lives were lost (nationally) in 2016 to completed suicide. The stigma against mental illness is ever present and many sufferers endure their pain silently. How heartbreaking!

“I knew directing this particular show would be an immense challenge, for the subject matter alone hit close to home. But it was also the reason why it drew me in so quickly. I couldn’t pass up the chance to be a part of this immensely illuminating production.”

The distance traveled in recent years from the spot in which mental health issues were considered shameful to the place today in which more people than ever realize that these issues are nothing to be embarrassed about is heartening.

But still, some people do not want to discuss the topic, which can add to the stress of anyone experiencing this kind of difficulty.

We thank the folks at the Vista for bringing this profound work to our area. We hope the theater is packed all three nights of the production. “Next to Normal” will be presented at 7 p.m. today, Friday and Saturday.

And we hope the light continues to shine on mental health issues, allowing those in the midst of difficulty the best chance possible to heal with the support of loved ones and the whole community.


Traverse City Record-Eagle. Nov. 14, 2019

Snow-vember not too soon to discuss a snow day cure

We heard that legislators were already talking about what to do about snow day debt.

In November.

Yes, it’s wild that we’re already thinking about surpassing the state-granted six cancellation days for reasons “beyond their control,” like snow.

But it’s also wild that many schools have racked up two snow days before Nov. 15; that ski resorts can open this weekend; and that record-breaking snow is piling up weeks ahead of seasonal snowplow hiring.

If this year is anything like the last one, snow day accrual may be a problem, and we should avoid repeating last year’s mistakes.

Snow day politics last year had adults throwing more snowballs at each other than the kids.

As January wore on, burying the six snow day-mark until a white, fluffy pile, we learned a few things:

That schools can request an extra 3-day wavier, usually without a hitch.

That the former practice of tacking minutes on to the school day to make up time was no longer in fashion.

That there’s a number of strange rules around snow days, like the additional “snow day waivers” for up to six more days — but only if they happen after April 1.

That so many snow days can take real bites of hourly school staff paychecks, and that making this partisan and tacking it to snow day problem solving, slows down the works.

Lastly, we learned that students, parents and school staff, employers — and just about everyone else — get pretty twitchy in May when the school year doesn’t have an end date.

So news that legislators are already talking is a positive sign.

Winter grasps northern Michigan tightly for six months; we are used to its wily ways and accept weather issues “we cannot control.”

But we can control who our state and legislators are, and we urge them to hash out the what-ifs as we stare down the barrel of a very snowy November, and into the snowy abyss beyond.

The last thing we want to do is talk about snow days come spring, again.