It’s bad enough that Sen. Sam Blakeslee cast the only vote against a bill that would require public college and university foundations to follow the state’s public records act. It’s even more outrageous when you consider that an incident at Cal Poly helped trigger the legislation.
That, of course, was the infamous 2009 episode in which Harris Ranch Beef Co. threatened to withhold a $500,000 donation if the university allowed a guest speaker, Michael Pollan, to talk about sustainable farming.
Senate Bill 8 — also known as the Transparency Act — would help prevent such blatant assaults on academic freedom by requiring certain donations to be made public. It also would require financial records, contracts and correspondence to be released to the public upon request.
This is a much-needed reform, and Blakeslee should have been leading the charge for this legislation. Instead, he opines against following the herd and offers a wrongheaded explanation for his vote.
After the 38-1 vote, Blakeslee told The Tribune that he’s afraid the legislation could discourage donations to nonprofit foundations at a time when our public colleges and universities are in dire need of help.
It is true that some donors prefer to remain anonymous, and perhaps they would be discouraged if they were required to go public.
However, SB 8 gives donors that option; contributions to nonprofit foundations would be subject to the public records act only under the following circumstances:
The donor receives something in exchange for the contribution that’s valued at more than $2,500 — box tickets to football games are an oft-cited example.
The donor is awarded a no-bid contract from the school within five years of making the contribution.
The donor attempts to influence curriculum or university operations.
By opposing the bill, it appears that Blakeslee has no problem with continuing to offer a veil of secrecy to those corporations, organizations and individuals that, like Harris Ranch, may have strings attached to their “gifts.”
That’s absolutely wrong.
What’s next — take a large donation from the fast food industry in exchange for playing down the link between high fat/high calorie diets and obesity?
Accept a big check from a liberal (or conservative) donor in exchange for getting rid of a conservative (or liberal) political science professor?
No matter how hard up our public colleges and universities may be, we don’t believe they should sell their integrity to the highest bidder.
We’re disappointed that Blakeslee did not see it that way. Instead, he decided to set himself apart from all of his colleagues — liberal and conservative — in voting against the public’s right to know how its system of public education is financed.
We only hope that when the bill comes up for a vote in the Assembly our other local lawmaker, Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, will recognize that it sometimes makes good sense to follow the herd.