“As the fallout continues from mismanagement of the fundraising operation at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, serious questions have arisen about the university’s adherence to the state Freedom of Information Act.”
This from a guest column in the Democrat-Gazette by John J. Watkins, emeritus law professor and expert in the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act. Watkins points out that UA Chancellor Gearhart’s background is hardly conducive to fostering a mindset of openness and transparency. He was a fundraiser at Penn State before working as a fundraiser at the UA Advancement Division. Penn State “is almost completely exempt from the Pennsylvania Right-to-Know Law”. The UA Advancement Division, while formally subject to FOIA, has been able to shield many of its activities from public scrutiny by relying on UA Foundation money to fund a large part of its budget. It is precisely this reliance on what amounts to a system of secret accounts to fund operations of a state entity that led to the mysteriously undetected $4 million hole in the Division’s budget, followed by an ongoing audit and investigation of possible criminal violations.
Watkins proposes a sensible solution: bring the UA Foundation and similar operations under the umbrella of FOIA. Donor anonymity may still be respected but there is no justification for keeping the financial books of such an important quasi-public institution out of view. The old adage that sunshine is the best disinfectant definitely applies in this case. As Watkins puts it: the “Culture of Secrecy” must change!
Official secrets: Exxon and the University of Arkansas – Arkansas Blog 9/25
‘Delete after reading,’ UA budget officer emailed – Democrat Gazette 9/29
FOI expert calls for more sunshine at the University of Arkansas – Arkansas Blog 10/2