PUBLIC INFORMATION -- On a 76-0 vote, the State Assembly has approved legislation to
ensure access to records of nonprofit entities serving the state’s public higher
education institutions – the University of California (UC), the
California State University (CSU), and the California Community
Colleges, reports the bill's author,
Senator Leland Yee (D-San
Francisco/San Mateo).

SB 218 will bring greater accountability to UC and CSU
by updating the California Public Records Act (CPRA) to include
auxiliary organizations that perform government functions on state
campuses.  UC and CSU have often evaded the public records act by
shifting some responsibilities to foundations and other auxiliary
organizations. 

Several recent examples demonstrate the need for increased public oversight and accountability provided by SB 218:

• At
Sonoma State, a $1.25 million loan issued to a former foundation board
member two days after he resigned.  He is now defaulting on that loan,
which leaves less money in the foundation’s endowment for scholarships
and other more important causes.

• At Fresno State, a no-bid
managing contract was given to a foundation member for a theatre
complex he held financial interest in.  A recent Superior court ruling
found that, despite CSU’s claims to the contrary, the foundation board
member must comply with the state’s conflict of interest laws. 

• At
San Francisco City College, a campus executive has been indicted for
using money from the San Francisco City College Foundation for personal
and political purposes.

• The latest example, as reported in the online community publication The Sacramento Press and
verified by CSU Sacramento documents, indicates that University
Enterprises, Inc., an auxiliary at Sacramento State, purchased a
commercial building in 2007 just as the economy began to head towards a
recession.  The building has only one tenant, which prompted Sacramento
State University and the CSU Chancellor’s office to give $6.3 million
from their general fund to offset the lost revenues from a lack of
tenants.  These funding commitments were made at the same time the CSU
has been forced to cap student enrollment, raise student fees, and
impose harmful furloughs on faculty and staff.  Additionally, while
arguing in opposition to SB 218, the CSU has made repeated claims that
campus auxiliary organizations are “self-supporting” and “do not rely
on general fund dollars for support.” 

“With 87 foundations and
auxiliaries operating on 23 CSU campuses, the SSU and FSU scandals may
be just the tip of the iceberg,” said Yee.  “It is imperative that the
Governor signs SB 218 to ensure that these organizations comply with
the state’s public records act and are held accountable.”

“It
creates a noxious brew when we combine large sums of money with little
or no public openness. And, it’s an obvious invitation to corruption,”
said Lillian Taiz, president of the California Faculty Association
(CFA), who is a history professor at Cal State Los Angeles. 
 
According
to the CSU Chancellor’s Office, 20 percent of its $6.7 billion budget,
or $1.34 billion, is held in auxiliaries and foundations, which is out
of public view.

“Taxpayers and students deserve to know how their
public universities are run,” said Yee.  “SB 218 will ensure that our
public higher education systems operate in the light of day and are
held accountable.”

In 2001, the Fresno Bee newspaper was
denied information, specifically concerning the identity of individuals
and companies that purchased luxury suites at the Save Mart Center
arena at Fresno State.  The denial resulted in CSU v. Superior Court (McClatchy Company),
in which the Court opined that although it recognized university
auxiliaries ought to be covered by the CPRA and that its ruling was
counter to the obvious legislative intent of the CPRA, the rewriting of
the statute was a legislative responsibility.

“Placing college
and university auxiliaries under the authority of the state's public
records act will safeguard the use of public funds and provide much
needed accountability and oversight to state policymakers,” stated John
Travis, Humboldt State University professor and legislative committee
chair for the CFA.

“SB 218 reinforces the need for greater
transparency and open government,” said Jim Ewert, Legal Counsel for
the California Newspaper Publishers Association.   “This bill ensures
that students, the legislature and the public will have access to
detailed information about how over $1 billion annually is moved
through these government agencies.”