After three years, Sen. Leland Yee’s Senate Bill 8 has passed in the California state senate. SB 8 aims to bring more transparency and accountability to the California higher education system, which includes the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU).
The bill is designed to make all financial records, contracts and correspondences subject to public disclosure upon request, allowing for students to see where their money is being used in the school system.
“The clear benefit for students is that this is their money that goes to these auxiliaries and now students will be able to watch where their money is going,” said Adam Keigwin, Yee’s chief of staff.
The idea for the bill began a few years ago when a Sacramento State student was trying to get information from the school’s bookstore about how much the school paid for books as compared to what students then paid for them. When this information was not released, the student brought the issue up to Yee.
“This has been a long fight, but I am proud of our coalition of open government advocates, students, faculty and workers who have stayed so persistent in helping protect the public trust,” said Yee in a press release.
The long wait for this bill was due partially to resistance from the CSU administration and former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who vetoed the bill.
“Once they realized they no longer have a backstop in the governor’s office for a veto, they sat down with us and negotiated, where we got about 90 percent of what we were looking for with the bill,” Keigwin said.
According to Diane Klein, spokesperson for the UC Office of the President, the earlier versions of the bill didn’t provide enough privacy for volunteers and donors.
“This, in turn, would have compromised the foundation’s ability to raise funds from private sources – and at a time when our fundraising needs are greatest,” Klein said. “What we had objected to, specifically, was the precedent in the earlier versions that would have declared our foundation’s public entities subject to the Public Records Act.”
Yee negotiated with the CSU administration to allow for some degree of anonymity for donors.
“We provided donor anonymity unless donors are getting something clearly beneficial from the university,” Keigwin said. “Donors cannot stay anonymous if they have any sort of influence over the university.”
For students, this bill provides a secure feeling that the funds they provide are going to where they are promised, although according to Klein, misappropriation of funds was never an issue in the school system.
“The transparency, as to how and where funds are spent, has always been there,” Klein said. “We support, and encourage, transparency in university operations.”
However, according to Yee’s administration, the transparency in most school foundations was lacking access for students, thus the need for SB 8.
“The clear benefit for students is that this is their money that go to these auxiliaries and now students will be able to watch where their money is going,” Keigwin said.
CHARLOTTE YOUNG can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.