My transparency plan

Published January 3, 2012

When I announced my campaign for trustee last month, I promised to propose changes that would promote transparency at Penn State. Some Pennsylvania legislators argue that fully applying the state’s Right To Know Law to the university is best way to bring about such change. They’ve introduced bills to make that a reality.

I believe their tack would be a mistake. Despite its name, Penn State is an independent, private institution, with tax dollars comprising only 15 percent of its annual income. Forcing it to follow rules designed for local school boards or municipal councils would make it difficult to retain employees and compete with other schools of a similar size.

But nothing prevents private organizations from releasing information on their own. That’s why I’m proud to tell you about my plan to bring greater transparency to Penn State, and end the atmosphere of secrecy for secrecy’s sake.

The core of my plan involves the adoption of the Right to Know Law as a Board of Trustees policy, with a few modifications that would protect employee privacy, keep certain financial information confidential and expand access to other records that the state law doesn’t provide.

First, we’d allow public access to records of police and internal investigations, a right that exists in many other states, but not in Pennsylvania. The state law exempts nearly all police records, and gives law enforcement far too much power. We have the opportunity to set an example for lawmakers accross the Commonwealth, and give citizens the same access that other states provide.

Second, we’d keep a limited amount of information private that would reduce Penn State’s ability to compete with other similar-sized universities. Investment records, third-party licensing deals, trade secrets and certain personnel information should remain private. Donor identities would also remain off-limits, unless the contributor allows its release.

Finally, my plan would create an office to handle requests for records. And it would create an appeals process that allows the Board of Trustees to reverse any records decision made by Penn State administrators.

I share some of the concerns former president Graham Spanier raised in 2007 about a bill that would have fully applied the Right to Know Law to Penn State. But with a little creativity and leadership, most of those concerns can be assuaged while the university continues to operate independently and privately.