California’s public institutions of higher learning are a step closer to increased accountability after Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, announced last Wednesday that the University of California and California State University systems had dropped their opposition to SB 8, Yee’s public disclosure bill. Although we opposed previous incarnations of Yee’s bill, we endorse the current version because it balances transparency with anonymity, creating accountability while addressing donors’ concerns.
Previous versions of this bill, which were vetoed by former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, would have discouraged large donations by requiring the systems to disclose the identity of any donor who received gifts or services valued at $500 or more in return for their donations. This could have had drastic consequences during a financially difficult period for public education.
SB 8 would rectify this troublesome provision by setting the anonymity threshold at $2500, a compromise that helps mitigate the concerns of donors who wish to remain anonymous. While transparency is important to maintaining the public nature of the university, donor support has become crucial as the university’s financial crisis deepens. Yee’s proposed bill shines by acknowledging this and balancing the interests involved. We applaud the UC and CSU systems for acknowledging the importance of Yee’s proposal and coming to the table to help bring it closer to reality.
We are also pleased at the level of transparency Yee’s proposal would provide. By subjecting college foundations and auxiliary enterprises to the California Public Records Act, it provides a crucial tool the public needs to keep the systems accountable. We hope the university’s embrace of the bill will continue should it become law and that the university will recognize the benefits of the increased transparency despite the inevitable burdens associated with compliance.
Although we opposed previous versions of this bill, we urge lawmakers to swiftly enact the current proposal and hope that should it land on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk, he will recognize a compromise that is beneficial to the entire state and sign it into law.