FREE SPEECH/PUBLIC INFORMATION -- Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) today called on the
administrators at California Polytechnic State University San Luis
Obispo to stop letting wealthy donors censor curriculum—a reported abuse he says might be disclosed if not deterred if a bill he is carrying on university foundation transparency were to become law.

In
October, the university reportedly eliminated a guest lecture at the request of
executives from the Harris Ranch Beef Company, who threatened to
withhold $500,000 in support for a new campus meat-processing center. 
Emails recently obtained by the San Luis Obispo Tribune found that
Harris Ranch may have also forced the resignation of a faculty member
who taught a course on sustainable farming. Harris officials are now
requesting a meeting with Cal Poly administrators to determine whether
or not they will continue with their donation.

“Cal Poly should
be catering to the students, not to big donors,” said Yee.  “Harris
Ranch, or any donor, has no business trying to influence curriculum or
infringing on academic freedom.  The curriculum at our public
universities should not be open to the highest bidder.

”Because
donations are often made to campus auxiliary organizations created to
benefit the public campus, information regarding such donations is
exempt from the California Public Records Act.
“These recent
events beg the question, when else has Harris and other big donors
influenced curriculum choices at Cal Poly,” said Yee. “The university
should publicly disclose all such attempts, as well as all written
correspondence between university officials and donors.”

Yee is
currently pursuing legislation, SB 330, to require campus auxiliary
organizations to be subject to the California Public Records Act, so
the public can determine for themselves if any improper influence is at
play at UC, CSU, and community college campuses.  Requests for
information on how much Harris Ranch has given Cal Poly were rejected,
thereby denying the public a proper accounting of the influence
donations have made on the school’s official actions.

“This is
precisely the reason why we have strong campaign finance disclosure
laws,” said Yee.  “When elected officials make decisions that impact
Californians, the public deserves to know any information that could
influence them.  In these two cases involving Harris Ranch, there is
little doubt that their influence resulted in official actions by CSU
officials, yet there is no transparency of the factors into that
decision.  This practice will change after SB 330 is signed into law.”

 SB
330 will be considered by the full Senate next week.  Last year,
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-Los Angeles) vetoed similar
legislation.