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United Wholesale Mortgage CEO Mat Ishbia makes no secret of his love for his alma mater, Michigan State University.
A month after taking UWM public in January 2021, the 2003 graduate donated $32 million to the school’s athletic department, in part to help construct a new football facility.
A subsequent donation by Ishbia, however, has come under scrutiny, placing the public university at odds with a Detroit-based newspaper over the public’s right to know the details.
The Detroit Free Press has sued MSU, asking a judge to order the school to release gift agreements it has with Ishbia and another wealthy grad, Steve St. Andre, founder of Shift Digital.
In November, the school signed a new 10-year, $95 million contract with head football coach Mel Tucker, making him the highest-paid coach in the Big Ten Conference and one of the highest-paid in the country. Both Ishbia and St. Andrew were credited with helping to fund the massive contract.
In the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in the Michigan Court of Claims, the Free Press accuses MSU of violating state open records laws by denying its initial request for copies of the agreements with the two donors.
MSU President Samuel Stanley subsequently denied an appeal from the newspaper, stating at the time that, "It is the university's position that the individuals' privacy interests outweigh the Free Press' stated interest in disclosure.”
Free Press Legal Counsel Herschel Fink told the Free Press on Tuesday that contracts with public organizations like MSU “are the essence of public records,” and that the “public has “a right to know what promises MSU has made in exchange for these gifts.”
Fink noted that both the school and the donors have both “publicly celebrated their generosity.”
In the lawsuit, Fink cited Michigan state law, writing that, "No exception is recognized under FOIA that applies to the Free Press' request, and the 'privacy exception' in (state law) does not apply, because the requested information is not 'information of a personal nature,' and even if it were, disclosure of the information would not 'constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of an individual's privacy.’”
Neither MSU, Ishbia, nor Andrew have commented on the lawsuit.