LANSING, Mich. — State Sen. Patrick Colbeck introduced a joint resolution Wednesday that would bring Michigan in line with other states when it comes to the legislative oversight of our public state universities and colleges.
Colbeck said Senate Joint Resolution SJR P is in response to a variety of issues at Michigan universities over the past several years, such as many state universities continuing to increase tuition at five times the rate of inflation, resulting in increased debt loads for students.
Colbeck also called attention to school policies that infringe upon the Open Meetings Act and violate First Amendment rights on campuses, saying these policies were clearly in need of legislative oversight.
“The last few months have seen several bills introduced that try to make our state universities more transparent and accountable, but they can only go so far,” said Colbeck, R-Canton. “This is because unlike in other states, Michigan’s Legislature is handcuffed on what it can try to do in providing proper oversight.
“Today I introduced legislation that addresses the root cause of this weak legislative oversight unique to our state. SJR P would ensure that the Legislature is able to provide for the accountability of universities to our constitution and the fiscal constraints of our residents.”
Colbeck said that the state’s overall law in this area is unique, and Michigan public universities enjoy almost complete autonomy in many areas. He also said the high level of autonomy makes them too independent from oversight by the Legislature, which hampers legislative attempts at checks and balances with universities.
In addition to talking about the importance of unacceptably high overall tuition rates, Colbeck also gave a past example regarding veteran tuition in particular.
“Several years ago our state universities refused to grant in-state tuition to our military service members who were transferred into Michigan by the federal government,” Colbeck said. “Because of the universities’ extreme level of separate autonomy, the Legislature was unable to effectively try to statutorily change things. It took several years before our military members were treated properly in these cases.
“If you look at some of the more recent issues plaguing our universities, needed change is simply taking too long and them acting on their own is frequently the exception and not the rule. It’s clear that we must take steps that allow for proper legislative oversight of these state institutions, bringing Michigan law in line with what we see in other states.”
SJR P would apply to public universities and colleges. The joint resolution has been referred to the Senate Elections and Government Reform Committee.