Thursday, June 04, 2009

Jumping Through Hoops To Find and Use Penn State's Right-To-Know Report

A couple of years ago the Pennsylvania General Assembly set out to overhaul the Commonwealth's antiquated Right-To-Know law. Freshman Democrat Tim Mahoney of Uniontown and veteran Republican Dominic Pileggi of Chester County introduced bills in the House and Senate, respectively. Both bills extended the coverage of the law to state-related universities, such as Penn State, which were not covered by the old law.

Graham threw a hissy fit. And Sen Jake Corman (R-Penn State) stepped up to the plate for him, by amending Pileggi's bill to exempt state-related schools from the full force of the law. Consequently, Penn State and the other state-related schools do not, under the law which passed, have to respond to requests for public records. The law only requires that
No later than May 30 of each year, a State-related institution shall file with the Governor's Office, the General
Asssembly, the Auditor General and the State Library the information set forth in section 1503.

And the information that must be reported?
The report required under section 1502 shall include the following:
  1. Except as provided in paragraph (4), all information required by Form 990 or an equivalent form, of the UnitedStates Department of the Treasury, Internal Revenue Service, entitled the Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax, regardless of whether the State-related institution isrequired to file the form by the Federal Government.
  2. The salaries of all officers and directors of the State-related institution.
  3. The highest 25 salaries paid to employees of the institution that are not included under paragraph (2)
  4. The report shall not include information relating to individual donors.
And one more thing, the schools have to make the report available to the public.
A State-related institution shall maintain, for at least seven years, a copy of the report in the institution's library and shall provide free access to the report on the institution's Internet website.
The Harrisburg Patriot-News and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported the salary data last Friday, but I wanted to take a look at Penn State's entire report. Big surprise there, huh? I figured the leak to the papers was intended to satisfy people's curiosity, thereby diminishing their desire to see the report.

I discovered that Penn State hasn't made it easy to find their report. A quick look at the Penn State homepage revealed nothing. So I searched the Web site on the string "Right To Know". The first link in the search results, which appeared to be the one I was looking for, took me here.
Penn State University fully agrees with the need for strict fiscal accountability to the citizens of Pennsylvania, the General Assembly, and the Administration. To this end, we supported the Higher Education Fiscal Information Disclosure Act in 1994 that was championed by Sen. James Rhoades and Rep. Jess Stairs, Chairs of the House and Senate (more)
This is just Graham trying to undo the damage of his hissy fit. But I thought that if I click on "more" , I'd find the report. Click I did and here's what I got.
The Rhoades-Stairs disclosure approach was designed specifically for Pennsylvania's major research universities, and continues to be the most appropriate higher education accountability mechanism. Under this act, state-related universities must report:
  • The academic and administrative budgets for current and prior years including revenue and expenditures;
  • The number of employees by academic rank and number of administrators, and staff;
  • The median and mean salaries of administrators, faculty and staff;
  • The non-salary compensation of administrators, faculty and staff;
  • A statement of the institution's retirement policies;
  • A policy statement on reduction of tuition for employee's family members;
  • Service contracts including legal, instructional, management accounting, architecture, public relations and maintenance;
  • A list of goods and services in excess of $1,000; and
  • A list, by unit, of expenses of travel.

The reports are due within 180 days of the close of each fiscal year. In addition, Penn State posts its reports on a specially designed Public Accountability Web site: . At this site you will find direct links to the University's operating budget, Fact Book, Common Data Set, crime statistics and other data sources for all 24 Penn State locations.

Well, that wasn't what I was looking for, but I was sure that that last link would take me to the report. No such luck. Here's what I was faced with.
As Pennsylvania's land-grant university, Penn State continually seeks to make information about its activities and services readily accessible to the citizens of the Commonwealth. Please visit the linked site below to find links to areas of major importance to Pennsylvanians and others who desire to know more about the scope, mission, and operations of the University.
I wasn't discouraged. I wasn't ready to give up. I clicked the link. But once again there was no Right-To-Know Report.

By the way, the Stairs Report, which Graham touted as having so much good stuff in it, is at the last link, but it is a watered down version which doesn't contain all of the information which Graham listed. So much for a commitment to accountability.

Variants on the original search string got me no closer. I needed a different strategy. I figured that I might find the report in LIAS since the law required it to be posted in the Library. And I was right. The LIAS listing for the report has a link to the report. It resides on the Controller's Web site.

So I wondered if Temple and Pitt made it this hard to find their Right-To-Know reports. First I went over to Temple's Web site. Over to the left on their homepage is a link to Public Information, which I clicked and found myself face-to-face with their Right-To-Know Report. At Pitt's Web site, I tried a bunch of stuff. Finally a search on "Right To Know Law" turned up this article in the University Times:The Faculty and Staff Newspaper which contained much of the information in required by the law, but I still haven't found the report itself.

Oh, and Penn State's Right-To-Know report is in a scanned file pdf which means that it can't be searched. (I transformed the file to a searchable pdf which I've uploaded to scribd.)

I'll write something up about the actual content of Penn State's report latter, but for now let's just say that Old Main has made it a little tough to track down and use their report.

Graham sure does love himself some accountability.

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