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Davis

Davis, California

Monday, October 18, 2021

UC Davis fails transparency audit

UC Davis was one of seven UC campuses to receive a failing grade by Californians Aware for not responding promptly to public record requests.

UC Berkeley, UC Merced and UC San Diego were the only UC campuses to receive non-failing grades of C, D and D, respectively.

The non-profit organization audited the 10 UC campuses’ compliance with the state Public Records Act. Each campus was to provide the university’s written guidelines for accessibility of records and several documents relating to the chancellor, including the employment contract, agenda and minutes for the contract, credit card statements, request for expense reimbursement and Statement of Economic Interests (Form 700).

“Considering the requests were recent and public documents, there is absolutely no justification for it taking longer than 30 days to produce those documents,” said Emily Francke, auditor and executive director of Californians Aware, which aims to be a center for information in public forum law.

According to the organization, the 30-day time frame was more than adequate to fulfill the request, and any documents not received in those 30 days resulted in a grade deduction. UC Davis failed to comply with Californians Aware methodology.

However, the California Public Records Act does not specifically state a 30-day time frame.

“Thirty days is not mandated in the law,” said Lynette Temple, information practices coordinator at UC Davis, who received the initial request. “The request came in shortly before the holiday break, so [the UC campuses] were processing these [requests] during a time where there were holiday closures. We felt we processed everything within a given amount of time and we were in compliance with the law.”

Brian Sparks, a former UC Davis student, has experience with the process of requesting public records. He requested public documents at the beginning of December last year and will receive the documents this week.

It can take a while for public records to be produced after a request. Regardless of whether or not it’s justified, it’s not surprising that Davis received a failing grade, Sparks said. There is a major problem, not only with universities, but with their foundations in not being as transparent as they should be with the Public Records Act, he said.

In addition, UC Davis suffered a grade deduction for obstructing the records request and for not assisting in identifying responsive records, according to the audit.

When the request for the documents came in, Temple explained to Francke — who went by the alias Betsy Gregg — that some of the records, such as the contract and Form 700, were located at the Office of the President for the whole UC system. Temple forwarded the information for their office to allow Francke to obtain the information.

“It seemed much more efficient and expedient to direct the requestor to the Office of the President, because [the Office of the President] can find those records more readily,” Temple said. “I think that is what most of the UC campuses did, because it was the most efficient and expedient thing to do.”

However, according to Californians Aware, this referral to the Office of the President revealed that the campus had no sense of ownership for responding to requests.

“Even if it is true that the campus does not house some of the records we requested, there is no reason why the campus cannot reach out to the appropriate office to obtain those records and turn them over to us, instead of sending us on a wild goose chase to obtain the records,” Francke said.

Californians Aware also audited the California State University (CSU) system. Nine of the CSU campuses received a grade of an A or higher.

“I don’t understand why the UC system isn’t streamlined like any other system, including the CSU system,” Francke said. “Most of CSU campuses were able to produce the documents within our 30 days. I think [UC] needs to reconsider their policy on taking ownership for requests and reconsider their organization for responding to requests.”

Despite the bad grade, Temple still believes that UC Davis does a good job responding to requests.

“We do our best to be as responsive to all of these requests as efficiently and as well as possible,” she said. “We receive a lot of requests, so to receive a non-passing grade is kind of disheartening. But you can take it for what it is and reevaluate, or accept the fact that this is a different sort of grading system.”

The methodology and results for all the Californians Aware audits are available at calaware.org.

MICHELLE MURPHY can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.

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