UCOP responds to non-compliance claims

    A six-month battle between the University of California Board of Regents and the Coalition of University Employees ended Sept. 30 when the California Supreme Court ordered the university to disclose details about its venture capital funds investment portfolio.

    However, the union has claimed that the university has not complied to the ruling, and in response, the University of California Office of the President posted “”detailed information”” about their venture capital funds on their Web site on Oct. 16.

    The latest ruling was the fourth against the university since the lawsuit was filed by C.U.E. and the San Jose Mercury News in April. Union officials said they were displeased that the University of California at first failed to fully comply with the ruling, providing only numerical data in net returns and not releasing the minutes of meetings in 2000 and 2002, when the asset allocation of the $35 billion retirement fund was changed.

    “”This is part of a larger movement … the information is out there,”” C.U.E. representative Jason Barnett said regarding the union’s court victory. “”The train is moving out of the station, whether you see it or not, and it’s about high time [the university] gets on board.””

    UC spokesman Trey Davis said that the confidentiality issue of venture capitalism is new ground for the university.

    “”The university is opposed to releasing information, but we have,”” Davis said.

    According to a UCOP press release, UC’s overall endowment fund fell 10.7 percent last year, more than any other of the 10 largest U.S. university endowments, except for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which dropped 12.6 percent. Also, UCOP said its private equity investments declined 21.5 percent in the year up until June 30, 2003.

    Venture capital funds are a form of private equity investment that can take five years or more before funds return positively. Investment banking companies put together a list of companies, oftentimes start-ups, they think will do well in the long run and present groups like the university with the information.

    Venture capitalists depend on public funds and argue that the release of internal rates or return would expose information about the individual value of the companies, breaking the confidentiality agreement between the partners.

    In fact, soon after the initial ruling of the case on July 24, prominent venture capital firm Sequoia Capital notified the university that no future investments in their funds could be made and all previous holdings had to be sold. According to UCOP Treasurer David Russ, the university made almost $400 million in their 22-year relationship with Sequoia Capital. This breakup could mean fewer profits for the university in the venture capital industry.

    However, pension plan members and other university retirees expressed concern over where the money was going. Public scrutiny, C.U.E. and the Mercury News argued, would help avoid investments from being made based on personal ties instead of by a company’s performance.

    The ruling will affect all nine UC campuses. According to Sally Hampton, president of the San Diego division of C.U.E., the retirement fund lost 40 percent over the last three years. She also said that health insurance rates have been increased for the 2004-05 academic year, and that layoffs are a possibility starting in January 2004.

    “”The people at the top of the system are so incredibly greedy it boggles my mind,”” Hampton said. “”If they didn’t have anything to hide, why would they need such an impressive legal team?””

    According to Hampton, the union believes the university to have sought a private staff of lawyers paid between $500 and $600 an hour.

    With the recent election of Arnold Schwarzenegger as the governor of California, the union questions the influence he will have on the future investment policies of the university.

    “”During his campaign, he talked about greater openness,”” C.U.E. Head Counsel Karl Olson said. “”But on the other hand, he has ties to the venture capitalists. I guess I would say he talked the talk, but I’m going to be skeptical on whether he’s going to walk the walk.””

    As governor, Schwarzenegger will also assume the role of an ex-officio member of the Board of Regents.

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