UC Santa Barbara — which employs over 10,000 people as part of the University of California system, one of the largest employers in California — is refusing to release data on how much it pays its employees of color, claiming that that the information is exempt from public review under the California Public Records Act.
The California Public Records Act (CPRA) states that “access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business is a fundamental and necessary right of every person in this state.” The state law requires public agencies like the UC system to provide records to the public unless the information falls under one of the law’s exceptions.
Despite the UC system’s stated “commitment to transparency and public accountability,” UCSB has refused several times to release the information, which the Daily Nexus requested in August through the CPRA, even after the UC Office of the President directed the Nexus to file this request with UCSB.
The Nexus filed a request to UCSB on Aug. 10, 2020 for the pay, race or ethnicity, job title, gender and full-time or part-time status of each employee who worked during the 2019-20 academic year.
The Nexus requested this information in order to see what UCSB pays its employees of color and which university departments employ them as part of a preliminary investigation into UCSB’s employment practices.
UCSB does provide information online about employees’ salaries and the racial breakdown of its workforce, separately. But this information does not allow for an analysis of pay disparities between employees of color and white employees.
In an email to the Nexus, Monica Dussert, public records act coordinator at UCSB, said the information is exempt from public review under two of the CPRA’s exceptions: “privacy concerns” and “because the balance of public interest favors nondisclosure of this information.”
Under the CRPA, public agencies must demonstrate that the information falls under one of its exceptions.
Kelly Aviles, an open government and media attorney based in Los Angeles, said that UCSB failed to adequately demonstrate how the exceptions cited would legally prevent the release of the information.
“When an agency is denying a public records request, they are supposed to justify the withholding of each record and they need to meet a high burden to demonstrate that it’s exempt,” Aviles said.
UCSB claims that releasing the data requested violates employees’ privacy, but the CRPA explicitly states that the privacy exception “does not prevent the disclosure by a government agency of data regarding age, race, ethnicity, national origin, or gender of individuals.”
UCSB additionally claimed that the data falls under an exception that permits withholding the records if “the public interest served by not disclosing the record clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure of the record.” The Nexus asked UCSB to demonstrate how the exceptions apply to the requested information; University Spokesperson Andrea Estrada denied to provide further comment on the matter.
Aviles noted that she has tried numerous cases against the UC that pushed back against PRA refusals and said the UC is “notorious” for breaking PRA laws.
“We frequently get complaints about UC, maybe more than any other… single government entity. Oftentimes we see either a complete refusal to respond to requests or just denials that have no basis in law,” Aviles said. “They have developed, I would say, quite the reputation in the transparency community for not complying with the laws’ obligations.”
The university maintains that it “fully complies with all CPRA requirements in responding to every request,” Estrada said in an email.
After Dussert denied the Nexus’ initial request in August, the Nexus requested the same information from the UC Office of the President on Sept. 17. UCOP directed the Nexus to file the request with UCSB’s public records office. The Nexus filed a request to UCSB again on Sept. 21 for the same information; UCSB denied that request the same day.
Then, on Sept. 26, the university said it does not have the information the Nexus requested.
In the latest response from the university on Sept. 26, Estrada said in an email that “some of the data does exist” but not “in the manner that was requested.”
In an email to the Nexus, Aviles said Estrada’s response “misrepresents the UC’s previous denial of [the] request, which contrary to their claim, does not comply with the CPRA.”
The bottom line, Aviles said, is that to the “extent that some of the data does exist, they must provide it.”