Legislators have introduced changes to open records law that could affect Temple.
A proposed amendment to an existing law would require Temple to further disclose its financial information and other records to the public.
State Rep. Eugene DePasquale (D-York) introduced a bill yesterday, Dec. 5, that would remove Temple’s exemption from Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know law, which allows news organizations and the public to gain access to documents from publicly-funded institutions.
Defined as state-related institutions, Temple, Penn State, University of Pittsburgh and Lincoln University are the lone schools in Pennsylvania that are supported in state aid but do not have to abide by all of the obligations of the Right-to- Know law.
As the law stands today, Temple is required to disclose the salaries of all its officers and directors and the salaries of the 25 highest paid employees, in addition to a tax filing.
Temple is not required to release any documents, school records or correspondences between officials that the public may request.
DePasquale’s proposed amendment would remove the exemption on the four universities and require the schools to fully adhere to the provisions of the Right-to-Know
“My hope is to have greater transparency across the board,” DePasquale said. “Greater transparency is good for everyone in the long run.”
Originally, the Right-to-Know law didn’t include state-related institutions at all. A 2008 rewrite of the bill, entitled Act 3, mandated that the four schools disclose certain financial information, but exempted them from other provisions of the law.
Ray Betzner, assistant vice president of university communications, said that the distinction between the four state-related institutions and other state schools lies in the actual amount of funding received from the state.
“[Temple] is state-related. The other schools are wholly state-owned and operated,” Betzner said. “We exist in a separate category from that. State schools receive a much larger share of funding from Pennsylvania than the state-related schools.”
Journalism law professor Fran Viola said that students, faculty and Pennsylvania taxpayers should have the right to know what is going on at the university.
“We have the right to know what’s going on in organizations that we are paying to operate,” Viola said. “There needs to be a greater degree of transparency to those folks, the parents, the students, the prospective students and their families in addition to the taxpayers.”
With DePasquale’s amendment, any Temple document or record requested by the public would then be appealed to the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records for a decision on its release.
“This stuff is public information, the public should readily have access to it,” DePasquale said. “Especially when it comes to things that are being spent with taxpayers dollars. The public has a right to know.”
Former Penn State President Graham Spanier lobbied in 2007 to prevent the 2008 rewrite of the law from including a provision that would require state-related institutions to disclose information about private donors.
While Act 3 included Spanier’s proposed clause, Spanier was fired in November amid claims that the Penn State athletic department and administration helped cover up acts of sexual assault that allegedly occurred on campus.
In response to requests from news organizations for documents relating to the sexual assault scandal, Penn State has used its exemption from the Right-to-Know law as cause to not release the documents.
Although DePasquale said he believes that the exemption for schools in the Right-to-Know law has been misguided since its inception, he noted that the recent scandal at Penn State had made his proposal timelier.
“Penn State has a huge credibility gap regarding the latest scandal,” DePasquale said. “I believe [the amendment] could be a way to win back the trust of the people of the state.”
Betzner said that Temple has heard the concerns of state legislators and is looking forward to working with them as the legislative process plays out. He added that no matter what happens, Temple will fulfill its duties under the law.
“Temple has complied with the law during the period of time,” Betzner said. “If the law changes, Temple will comply with the law as it’s going to be changed.”
Joey Cranney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.