The University of California system has received a failing report card in a statewide public records transparency audit.
Californians Aware, a nonprofit public-access advocacy group, began the audit in November and recently released the results. In its report, the non-profit issued an ‘F’ to the UC, but awarded a ‘B’ grade to the California State University system. Of the UC’s 10 campuses, seven received an ‘F’, two received Ds and UC Berkeley led the pack with a ‘C’.
For the audit, Californians Aware requested each university president or chancellor’s employment contract, agenda for the meeting in which that person’s contract was approved, university credit card account, reimbursement forms, statement of the university’s economic interests and its guidelines for handling such requests.
Four CSU campuses — Cal State East Bay, San Francisco State, San Jose State and Sonoma State — earned an ‘A+’ due to the accessibility of their records and timely responses. Pat Lopes Harris, director of media relations for San Jose State University, said the college makes a concerted effort to remain transparent.
“We really try to use the law as a guideline,” Lopes Harris said. “We have a requestor follow through. It’s challenging, especially given budget shortfalls and a reduction in staffing. Some [requests are] lengthy and complicated, but we make it a priority.”
Despite previous reports that UCSB passed the audit, the university fared no better than any other UC campus. However, Californians Aware says it was the only campus that didn’t present auditors with “unnecessary obstacles to the release of records.”
Californians Aware Executive Director Emily Francke said she was disappointed by the UC’s performance.
“The results were far below anticipation,” Francke said. “[The UC system] failed thoroughly and there’s a lot to be desired.
Francke said Californians Aware’s most significant concern was UC campuses’ failure to respond in a timely manner or tendency to direct the agents elsewhere to receive records.
“The bigger problem was that, for reasons I have yet to understand, the UCs did not get the papers in 30 days,” Francke said. “There is no reasonable justification. If they had just taken ownership, that would have solved half their problems.”
According to the audit, six UC campuses, including UCSB, failed to acknowledge Californians Aware’s records request within the legally-mandated 10-day period.
However, Associate Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs Paul Desruisseaux said the audit was inaccurate and unfairly conducted.
“Our campus has a conscientious and responsive public affairs [department],” Desruisseaux said. “[The audit] misrepresented exchanges in collecting information. … They say they did not get a timely acknowledgement. The e-mail came in on Nov. 29 and they got a response Nov. 29 that was removed from the e-mail thread.”
Other UC campuses have made similar claims about the inaccuracy of the agency’s audit.
Steve Montiel, UC Office of the President media relations representative, issued a statement questioning the accuracy of Californians Aware’s methods.
“We believe the report is deeply flawed,” Montiel said. “You have to question the validity and fairness of any report that characterizes an entity’s [California Public Records Act] compliance as a failure despite the release of records in accordance with the law. … The report does not reflect the hard work that employees across the UC system do to ensure transparency.”