LETTER: Board of Trustees accountable for CMU problems

It is time to be clear: the Board of Trustees must be held accountable for the mess that Central Michigan University has become.

But the eight appointed public officials who make up the CMU board hide from the public, including the CMU students, faculty, employees and other interested persons. They refuse to comment. I am still waiting for an answer to an email I sent to a trustee a week ago, not to mention an acknowledgment.

The trustees were appointed by a governor and gained the approval of the state senate before taking office for their eight-year terms. The university trustees at the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University are elected by the statewide voters. Just like other elected public officials, they must face the public. But CMU’s trustees think they are different since they were not elected by the public and will never have to face the voters. They are so committed to secrecy that they covered up trustee Jacqueline Garrett’s resignation in July 2009 until March 2010.

Why are the trustees hiding? Because they believe they can operate as a private corporation’s board of directors, who are running some big company, and they can make their decisions in secret and then hide out while their surrogate does their “dirty work.” Here are some examples of what I call “dirty work” done for the trustees by their surrogate, President George Ross, that have led to the mess that is the current negotiations between the university and its faculty union.

• No. 1: The trustees hired and are paying tens of thousands of dollars to a union-busting law firm to handle negotiations with the Faculty Association.

• No. 2. The trustees changed a 40-year policy by refusing to extend the FA contract when it expired June 30. This abrupt switch led to the FA job action that disrupted the first day of classes. It also prevented faculty who earned promotions last year from receiving them.

• No. 3. The trustees approved a news release by Ross’ underlings that stated falsely the UTF (part-time and temporary faculty) and GSA (graduate students) unions had accepted contracts for this academic year without raises. This was patently false and I called this to the trustees’ attention at their July 14 meeting. The trustees told me and other presenters beforehand that the trustees would not comment on what we said (more secrecy). The misstatement violated the university mission statement that calls for “honesty and trustworthiness.”

• No. 4. The trustees approved a legal filing to Isabella County Court that stated that CMU was forced to cancel the first day of classes on Aug. 22 because of the FA job action. This could not have been further from the truth as CMU stated repeatedly to students that classes were being held and that students should report. Again, the mission statement of “honesty and trustworthiness” was violated. Again, the trustees said nothing.

• No. 5. The trustees have not been forthcoming about the true cost of the proposed College of Medicine. Ross and his predecessor Kathy Wilbur have acknowledged that CMU is spending $5 million a year of current students’ payments and state subsidy money on the med school. A closer investigation suggests that CMU is committing tens of millions of dollars to the new med school — far more than the $5 million a year — and that the money will come from current undergraduate and graduate students’ payments and from state subsidies because CMU cannot privately fundraise the money needed to operate the med school. Why does CMU keep raising tuition? To pay for the med school.

• No. 6. The trustees act like CMU has to be on a tight budget because times are tough in Michigan, but the truth is that CMU is an island of prosperity in a sea of economic difficulty. CMU has a gigantic surplus of $228 million, more than half of its annual spending.

As the FA contract crisis gets messier and messier, the trustees remain silent and hide out, content to allow the drip, drip, drip of destruction of a great university, all in the name of giving the med school an IV drip, drip, drip of unending cash.

John K. Hartman, professor of journalism