The decision to make the Madison Initiative for Undergraduates Oversight Committee a closed meeting may have violated state open meeting laws Monday at a meeting to review MIU proposals.
A Badger Herald reporter who attempted to attend the meeting was informed upon arrival that the meeting was a closed session and press was not allowed in. The reporter was then told the session was closed to allow the committee to discuss “personnel issues.”
Later, the provost’s office sent a statement to the Herald saying the meeting was closed because bodies purely advisory in capacity are not considered governmental bodies and are therefore not subject to open meetings laws.
President of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council Bill Lueders said the change in reasoning seemed odd.
“I think it’s significant that they would try to think of a reason to exclude [the reporter] on the spot,” Lueders said, adding the statement sent to the Herald seemed like a cover up for illegal behavior.
Associated Students of Madison Vice Chair and committee member Tom Templeton said Wisconsin laws are pretty explicit in saying non-decision making committees are not governmental bodies, and are therefore not subject to open meeting laws.
However, a Wisconsin open meeting law compliance guide written by Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said governmental bodies are defined not by what they do, but by how they were created.
The guide states as long as they are created by official rule, advisory bodies are considered governmental bodies subject to open meeting laws.
According to Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning Aaron Brower, the university formed the committee informally after the Board of Regents passed the MIU.
He said several models of proposal review were presented to Chancellor Biddy Martin and she chose the current one, in which proposals are first looked over by a student oversight board, then by the oversight committee of Monday’s meeting.
The proposals are ranked in four levels of importance; Martin would choose which ones to fund using the committees’ recommendations.
Minutes from the May 7, 2008 Board of Regents meeting indicate the committee’s formation may have been formal, however. The minutes describe their approval of the tuition increase and then say a Madison Initiative Oversight Board will review the tuition differential annually.
If the resolution constitutes a formal “rule” or “order” for the creation of the advisory body and the Madison Oversight Committee is the same body outlined in the resolution, its meetings would likely be subject to open meeting laws.
“I believe it was an illegal meeting,” Lueders said.
According to Templeton, about one third of the 114 proposals were reviewed at the meeting.
He said a favorite of his was proposal 110, which engages transfer students in first year experience activities.
Many of the proposals submitted are of very high quality, Brower said. He noted he was humbled by the amount of work that went into many proposals he read.
“It’s shocking to me how much need there is on campus,” Brower said.