Home / Insights / Private Donations to Public Universities = Public Records?

Private Donations to Public Universities = Public Records?

by | Mar 2, 2023 | Public Records

There have been numerous cases lately regarding what records should be considered public versus private when public officials or funds are involved.

Here’s an interesting corner of that larger question: have you ever wondered if large private donations to public schools fall under the scrutiny of public records?

In Michigan, the Detroit Free Press has been confronting a records denial from Michigan State University for two large donor agreements – contracts which MSU has withheld, claiming donors are entitled to privacy.

The highlight of this request: how MSU is funding a record-breaking 10-year, $95 million contract with their current football coach, heavily subsidized by two donors.

Detroit Free Press wants to know the details of those donation contracts – the public has a right to know who is paying the coach.

Releasing the contract could show what MSU has agreed to do in exchange for receiving the sizable donations. In the past, private donors to MSU have been able to influence building names, who becomes the next dean, and curriculum choices.

Should these donors be allowed to remain private?

The Detroit Free Press says: No. Once the funds have become part of doing a public university’s bidding, the exchanges surrounding that money become public records.

The newspaper has sued for the records. We’ll follow up with new developments.

I represent news media, bloggers, publishers, and citizens interested in government access, and others who operate under the First Amendment—public records; public meetings; newsgathering; avoiding defamation lawsuits; suing Anti-SLAPP violators. My job is to help you get the records and access you need, help you get the story, help you get the story without getting arrested, help get the story published without defaming anyone, and then defend the story after publication. 

If you need help with any of these areas and don’t have an attorney already, contact me: [email protected]. This post is not intended to be legal advice and does not form the basis of a lawyer-client relationship.


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