House Judiciary chair urges transparency on legal expenses of Michigan’s public universities and community colleges
State Rep. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, today presented to the House Clerk’s office an amendment to the School Aid Act requiring Michigan’s public universities and colleges to report their expenditures for legal fees to the Legislature.
Runestad, who testified before the House Oversight Committee last October challenging the limits of universities’ operational autonomy, stated that the Legislature is ultimately responsible for oversight of public funds and should act to require this reporting. House Bill 5488, which will be introduced Tuesday, would require reporting of all costs incurred in connection with any civil or criminal case, filed or anticipated, against the university or any of its officials, agents, or employees, including, but not limited to, attorney fees, witness and other fees, court costs, and the amounts of any settlements entered or judgments rendered.
“Current events have shown the necessity of requiring information from universities on their expenditures pertaining to lawsuits,” Runestad said. “Without legislative oversight universities have demonstrated they are emboldened to violate free speech rights of students as well as potentially abuse the public trust.”
Runestad stated that he initially requested this budget amendment last year as a means of acquiring information on the number of students, faculty and staff who pursue lawsuits on free speech rights violations on public campuses. However, the matter came to a head with the case of Larry Nassar, a former physician at Michigan State University, who was convicted of sexually assaulting women and girls over a period of years. Public funds may have been used for legal services to mitigate the universities’ liability.