Representatives from Temple and the three other state-related universities argued against possible changes to the public universities’ exemptions under Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know law at a hearing before the Senate’s State Government Committee in Harrisburg last week.
Though a bill was introduced in the state Senate earlier this year, legislators are proposing changes to the law, which contains exemptions for the state-related institutions – Lincoln University, Penn State, Temple and the University of Pittsburgh – and does not treat those schools as state agencies.
The law has been subject to much scrutiny because of Penn State’s handling of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal that began to unfold nearly two years ago.
“Many people have registered with us the view that the law does not go far enough in its application to the state-related universities,” state Sen. Lloyd Smucker, chair of the State Government Committee, said at the hearing on Oct. 21. “This debate has been affected by the Sandusky situation, which has been a game-changer in several areas of state law and may prove to be for open records as well.”
The university representatives spent much of the hearing arguing that the institutions are not state agencies, and the disclosure requirements already put forth by the state sufficiently account for state funds.
“We’re not here to hide any information about how we spend commonwealth funds. We never have been,” said George Moore, senior vice president and university counsel at Temple.
The state-related universities are classified under chapter 15 of the Pennsylvania Right-to-Know law and are currently required to disclose their Internal Revenue Service Form 990 information, including the pay of officers and directors as well as the salaries of the 25 highest paid employees that are not officers or directors.
The universities’ representatives said the institutions are subject to a number of other disclosures from the federal government and the Public School Code.
“I really believe that Temple University fully accounts for every dollar of the commonwealth appropriation,” Moore said in a telephone interview last week. “There’s 100 percent transparency.”
During the hearing, Moore, along with representatives from Penn State, Lincoln and Pittsburgh, laid out some of the negative consequences associated with classifying the state-related universities as state agencies.
On top of additional costs and an increased administrative workload, the representatives argued that there would be at least 12 other negative consequences, including a detriment to research, an inhibited ability to enter sponsorship contracts with outside organizations and a loss of leverage in negotiating contracts with vendors, according to joint testimony submitted by Dunham, Harrison, Moore and Supowitz.
“It’s not a question of hiding information or not wanting certain information to be out there,” said Dunham, vice president and general counsel at Penn State.
Ken Lawrence, Temple’s senior vice president for government, community and public affairs, reiterated in an interview last week the need for protection for research, but added that there also needs to be protection for donations.
“Some people don’t want their name on a gift because they don’t want 100 other universities to come and ask them for a gift,” Lawrence said.
One of the provisions of Senate Bill 444 supported by the universities is the inclusion of campus police departments under the full scope of the law as “local agencies.”
“The state-related universities support the approach taken in SB 444 regarding the state-related universities, and the inclusion of our police departments in the [Right-to-Know] law,” read the testimony.
“They are the same as local police departments,” Moore said during the hearing.
Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi introduced the bill earlier this year. The legislation also addresses inmates’ rights in regards to open records.
Sean Carlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SeanCarlin84.