The Detroit Free Press sued MSU over a denial of its request for records about donors' gift agreements, according to an article published today.
The Free Press asked for records of agreements with two donors, Mat Ishbia and Steve St. Andre, but was denied under FOIA's privacy exemption. The suit alleges that in denial of this request and an appeal for the records, the university "violated state open records laws."
These donors helped fund Michigan State Head Coach Mel Tucker's contract. Tucker's base salary is $5.9 million per year and he receives $3.1 million in supplemental income. With bonuses, this brings his 10-year deal to $95 million.
According to deputy spokesperson Dan Olsen, MSU has not yet been served a copy of the lawsuit.
Michigan State President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. denied an appeal for the records on Feb. 22. His denial quoted FOIA's privacy exemption: "information is exempt if (1) it is personal in nature, and (2) disclosure would reveal little to nothing about the inner workings of the government. Information is personal in nature when it is intimate, embarrassing, private or confidential."
"Your appeal contains several inaccurate statements and characterizations which will not be detailed here," Stanley said in his denial letter. "The central issue is whether the agreements contain information that is private and confidential, and whether disclosure would contribute significantly to the public’s understanding of the University’s activities. The agreements are private and confidential; the donors have an expectation that they will not be shared with the public."
Stanley's letter said in its request, the Free Press hoped "to learn the promises, rights, and benefits that may have been extended by the University to the donors to help induce them to make the donations" but he said the donors' privacy interest outweighs the request.
According to the Free Press, the "lawsuit notes that when universities get donations, the school and the donor sign legally binding contracts, 'which spell out the conditions and binding promises made by both parties, donor and public institution'" allowing the publication to argue that these donor agreement records should be made public.
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