State Funding Issues Must Be Addressed

As Penn State students clamor for more state aid in hopes of avoiding higher tuition bills, Gov. Tom Corbett has put the university on notice. If Penn State wants taxpayer money, the university must accept the full-disclosure requirements of the state’s open-records law, Corbett says. Sparked by the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal that has exposed the secrecy in which Penn State’s leaders have operated, Corbett said he plans to talk to state lawmakers about forcing Penn State to make a decision: Is it a public or private institution? Corbett said he wants to talk about requiring the other “state-related” schools — the University of Pittsburgh, Temple and Lincoln — to fully comply with the Right to Know law if they want state aid. The debate comes as Corbett prepares to release his new state budget on Tuesday. The open-records law applies to local and state governmental agencies, community colleges and the 14 state-owned universities, including Millersville and Shippensburg. Some lawmakers agree that more public disclosure is in order for the four universities, but they aren’t enamored with Corbett’s approach. “They should not be intimidated into giving up state funds — funds I believe critical to their mission and to their ability to enable lower-income students to afford higher education,” said Sen. John Blake, D-Lackawanna County. Blake is among a few lawmakers who have introduced legislation to expand the disclosure requirements of the four universities. Under the open-records law, those schools must only provide information that the university provides to the IRS and a list of their 25 highest-paid employees. The state’s Right to Know Law carries with it the presumption that all records of an agency are public unless they fall under 30 exemptions. But it also keeps private proprietary, academic and security information that universities have been leery of disclosing. The universities have argued that if they had to disclose all of their professors’ salaries, they could be at a competitive disadvantage. They also say some donors might not give if they couldn’t do so anonymously. Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware County, an open-government advocate, admits there is a strong argument to be made that broader disclosure rules should be placed on the four universities, which receive millions in tax dollars. But he hasn’t decided whether universities should have the same rules as other government agencies. “It is something we will be looking at in the amendment to the open-records law that I hope to have finished by June 30,” he said. Corbett advised Penn State trustees of his intention to tie Penn State’s aid to the open-records law when the university’s board met in January. “A decision has to be made,” Corbett said afterward.


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