CARMICHAEL – A systematic check of how well California’s tax-supported education institutions respond to requests for public information shows University of California campuses to be consistently slower to provide clearly public information than those of the California State University system—for reasons that are hard to understand.

This contrast emerges in the second phase release of a California Public Records Act compliance audit conducted by Californians Aware (CalAware) in December, testing the responses of more than 250 agencies statewide, including nearly 200 local school districts and half of the state’s 72 community college districts, as well as its 32 public university campuses.

The test queries used in the exercise sought specifics on the total compensation, expense reimbursement claims, credit card use and outside financial interests of the chief executive officers of each of the 10 UC and 22 CSU campuses, and yielded a ready comparison of their relative income levels and spending habits.

Detailed results for each campus are available on our website (follow the link from the homepage). Whereas CSU campuses earned a higher average grade (B) than community college districts (reported last week) when asked for the same documents using the same method, UC campus performed far worse (F average). The contrast between CSU and UC was particularly interesting given the similar statewide scale of the institutions. While CSU campuses take ownership of their requests, gathering documents from various sources within their institution to fulfill them, UC campuses take a very different approach, requiring requesters to chase down documents from different offices within their institution. The result is very satisfactory when dealing with the CSUs, especially compared to the frustrating experience when dealing with their UC counterparts.

This frustration is further compounded by the UC campuses’ unjustified and extremely long delays—in some cases giving a 3-4 month estimated turnaround time—to produce clearly public and readily available documents.

“The fact that almost half the CSU campuses achieved an A-plus perfect score is convincing evidence that full compliance with public records access law is not an unreasonable burden but a readily and frequently satisfied expectation,” said CalAware Executive Director Emily Francke. “The fact that most UC campuses scored an F is, accordingly, a sorry outcome indeed.”

Quite apart from compliance with public records laws, the audits revealed a variety of factors that may increase a UC chancellor’s full compensation value beyond the dollar figures specified in his or her appointment letter: health and retirement benefits alluded to but not spelled out in the letters, and the option to have the university hire, as a paid assistant with unspecified duties at an unspecified salary, the chancellor’s spouse or domestic partner. These additional factors would be quantifiable through follow-up records requests.