End Transparency Exemption for Penn State

Penn State officials will soon be under a different kind of investigation—an investigation by taxpayers. In the aftermath of the child sexual abuse scandal, Rep. Eugene DePasquale is introducing a bill requiring full transparency from the state-related university.

Under the current Right-to-Know law, all state-related universities—Penn State, Temple, the University of Pittsburgh and Lincoln—are exempt from standard right-to-know requests. In other words, these universities receive taxpayer funds—over $500 million last year—but are under no obligation to reveal to taxpayers precisely how they spent these funds. The current law requires the universities to post their 990 tax forms, the salaries of officers and directors, and the highest 25 salaries annually, but these general documents provide little insight into universities’ enormous spending.  Nor do they give access to information that state agencies and local governments must provide to citizens.

The calls for transparency are not without reason: Obviously, the handling of the Sandusky scandal calls into question the judgment of the university leaders, but this isn’t the first case of suspected foul play. Dr. Michael Mann, a meteorology professor at the university, has been accused of manipulating and destroying research to prove his theory on climate change. The university’s resulting investigation proved a wash.

And consider the following facts that speak volumes about the university’s fiscal management:

  • Penn State has reduced early morning classes because they are unpopular with students and some faculty, while the university’s strategic plan suggests facilities are being underutilized.
  • Penn State increased administrative staff per student by 70.8 percent between 1993 and 2007. The University of Pittsburgh increased administrative staff by 54.7 percent, according to a Goldwater Institute study.
  • Taxpayers provided nearly $3.5 billion to Penn State over the last decade while tuition doubled to $15,250.
  • At Penn State’s main campus, 58 percent of students graduate in four years. This compares with 11-45 percent at its 19 branch campuses, where enrollment has been declining.

It’s time to open the books on Penn State.