UC, CSU drop opposition to higher education transparency bill

Cal Dining, which operates the Crossroads facility shown above, is among the auxiliary organizations that will be affected by the new regulations.
Anna Vignet/Senior Staff

The University of California and California State University systems have dropped their opposition to a bill that would require their auxiliary organizations to adhere to state public records laws.

A previous version of the bill was vetoed in October 2009 by former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has said that it would not be an adequate remedy for ensuring that there is proper transparency in the UC system — a sentiment with which UC and CSU officials had previously agreed. But the bill’s author, Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, announced last Wednesday that he reached an agreement with the two systems on a compromise bill that he said is likely to be enacted and would protect the anonymity of any donor who did not receive certain monetary rewards or attempt to “influence curriculum or university operations.”

“After several years of fighting to open up the books of our public universities, I am pleased that we are able to come to this agreement,” Yee said in a statement. “Finally, we will have true sunshine and accountability of the administration of billions of dollars within UC and CSU.”

Yee has said he is confident that the bill will be signed into law should it reach Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

“Our public universities should not be allowed to hide billions of dollars without any accountability,” Yee said in a statement. “Most of these auxiliaries are fully staffed by public employees who administer public funds, yet their decisions are made in complete secrecy. Taxpayers and students deserve better.”

Under the bill — known as SB 8 — UC, CSU and the California Community Colleges auxiliaries and foundations would adhere to state public records laws, requiring all financial records, contracts and correspondence  be subject to public disclosure upon request. Auxiliary organizations provide noninstructional services to students for user charges.

“The University of California is pleased to remove its opposition to SB 8 in response to amendments that will protect donor privacy and recognize that University campus foundations are non-profit organizations that exist solely to assist UC with its educational, research and public service mission,” said Steve Juarez, Associate Vice President of UC State Governmental Relations, in the statement. “Senator Yee, his staff, and the sponsors of SB 8 … are to be applauded for negotiating a compromise that provides for greater transparency and accountability without sacrificing privacy protections that University donors and volunteers have a right to expect.”

The previous version of the bill would have required donors to request anonymity, according to Adam Keigwin, Yee’s chief of staff. The amended version of the bill provides anonymity for all donors unless they meet certain criteria that would remove their anonymity.

It would protect the anonymity of all donors and volunteers, except where there is a quid pro quo situation in which the donor or volunteer receives something from the university that is valued at over $2,500 — up from $500 — or in which the donor or volunteer receives a sole source contract within five years of the donation, according to Keigwin.

“We don’t necessarily just want to throw away anonymity just because they get kind of a standard perk to a donation that anybody would get,” he said. “What we’re really trying to get at is these situations where they negotiate some sort of quid pro quo or perk.”

Additionally, those seeking access to public records would gain access to all financial documents, expenditures and correspondence of the organizations. According to Keigwin, having access to correspondences would open the door to information dealing with attempted influence of curriculum or university operations.

“If there is anyone trying to influence curriculum, you’ll then be able to say ‘Hey, were they a donor?’” he said. “And they’ll have to give that up now.”

But Associate Vice Chancellor for Residential and Student Service Programs LeNorman Strong said in an email that many of the campus’s auxiliaries — which would include Cal Dining and Cal Housing, among other organizations — already  comply with the state’s public record laws.

“In my 35 years of experience in American Higher Education, mostly in auxiliary organizations at 4 institutions, I have always endorsed open records,” he said in the email. “Since I’ve been at UC Berkeley, we’ve utilized the State’s open records process to comply with any inquiries that have come our way.”

According to Keigwin, the bill will move to the state Senate floor for a full vote sometime next week.

Allie Bidwell is the news editor.