UC Needs a Better Strategy for Informing the Public

In recent months, the University of California has become the state’s poster child for secretive government agencies that attempt to evade and

circumvent public scrutiny. That tradition continued close to home, with the San Diego Union-Tribune report last week that Chancellor Marye Anne Fox was awarded an unreported $248,000 bonus when she came to UCSD; it was news to students, faculty and, most surprisingly, many regents.

While UC President Robert C. Dynes gave a credible defense for the pay, the shadowy disclosure makes one wonder: What else does the public not know about the UC?

In November, the university released a report that justified pay raises for its top executives. Soon afterward, media reports suggested that the UC-commissioned study ignored more than $800 million in unreported compensation. When a union representing UC workers requested, along with journalists, the report under the state’s open-records law, the university flatly refused, claiming it contained “proprietary” information.

The Guardian has had its own experience with the university’s tight-lipped culture. Its request for e-mails between top administrators about pornography on Student-Run Television took nearly three months to process; and at the last minute, a university lawyer blocked their release, reneging only after editors raised a fuss.

The Union-Tribune put it best in a November editorial: “The secrecy that has resulted from UC officials’ incomprehension [of the open-records law] isn’t just a violation of the public trust. It’s illegal — which is why no amount of spin can excuse away UC’s record on openness questions.”

An overhaul of the way the UC system deals with the public is long overdue.