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Thursday, October 21, 2021

UC transparency bill back in circulation

Senate Bill 8, which addresses the issue of transparency for the University of California (UC), California State University (CSU) and community colleges in California, is still sitting in Senate. Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) updated and reintroduced the bill on Dec. 6.

“At a time when Republicans and Democrats can agree on so little in Sacramento, this is one bill where they consistently have agreed, so we want to reintroduce it, to see if we can’t get the governor’s signature this time around,” said Bill Ferguson, communication specialist for the California Faculty Association.

The bill, which is sponsored by the California Faculty Association (CFA) and the California Newspaper Publisher’s Association, would update the California Public Records Act, which requires state and local agencies to make their records available for public inspection. If passed, the act will include more thorough disclosures by organizations and auxiliary groups that perform government functions at the UC, CSU and community colleges.

“At a time when our universities are facing budget cuts and money is thin, its important to put the money where the students are. The time has really come for us to bring transparency and accountability to our colleges and universities,” Ferguson said.

The bill has been modified from its 2009 edition to go beyond the reach of the CA Public Records Act and include various fundraising foundations and non-profit auxiliaries that are connected with the state universities. These auxiliaries are extensions of the public universities that were first established to assist with fundraising.

When the public inquires about the practices of auxiliaries, they are able to claim they are private groups and are not subject to the specific disclosure requirements of the CA Public Records Act.

“We have no idea how much administrators are getting out of these foundation’s auxiliaries, we have no idea whether they are spending money wisely, and so we need to bring some accountability to that,” said Adam Keigwin, chief of staff for Yee.

Sen. Yee has proposed similar bills, such as SB 86, 218 and 219 which aimed to reform the UC, CSU and community college system by altering their fiscal systems to be more transparent to the public.

However, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed all three bills. Yee is expecting it will pass under Gov. Jerry Brown, Keigwin said.

“What is different about this year versus the previous years is we have a new governor. And we have a governor whose rhetoric will hopefully match his actions, and will sign this bill into law,” Keigwin said. “We already know Jerry Brown’s record on this because, as attorney general, he investigated these auxiliary organizations and found wrongdoing. So we’re pretty confident that we will get him to sign this bill.”

According to Ricardo Vazquez of the UC Office of the President, UC has not yet taken a position on SB 8, however given the current form of the university, he believes UC will likely oppose the bill.

One reason is that the bill does not offer complete protection for donors who have requested anonymity, which could lead to a negative impact on philanthropic support for the university, Vazquez said.

“UC feels that while it is appropriate to subject public entities like the university to Public Records Act requests, the same is not true for non-profit university foundations,” Vazquez said. “That said, UC strongly believes that as a public institution it must operate in a transparent and accountable manner and is committed to providing the public with information related to its operations, and remains open to compromise with respect to the bill.”

ANNABEL SANDHU can be reached at city@theaggie.org.

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