Potential for new State legislation puts UConn Foundation under scrutiny

The state legislature is proposing to make the list of donors contributing to the UConn Foundation public information in response to criticism. Instead of publishing reports with just the amounts donated, the foundation would have to publish its donors' personal information.

Past contributions of the foundation to the university include an additional $300,000 allocated to President Susan Herbst’s salary and $251,250 toward former Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton’s speech on campus in April 2014.

Derek Slap, associate vice president of external relations for the UConn Foundation, stressed the importance of the foundation being a private entity. He said one of the main purposes of the foundation is to supplement UConn’s budget and not replace the funds it receives from the state.

“The people who donate want their personal money, not the money already given in taxes, donated to the foundation, which is held accountable to the donors themselves, as opposed to being utilized to fill in budget holes by the state,” Slap said.

Ninety percent of donors that give to UConn have the money set up with a restricted purpose, meaning that their funds can only be allocated to what the donor has dictated. There are various scholarships or speaker series events that will receive money over something else deemed more important.

Funding a cause like Herbst’s salary comes about through deliberation and debate on the foundation's Board of Directors, Slap said.

“The board wanted to make sure that an increase in President Herbst’s salary was made without taxpayer’s money," Slap said. "Similar universities to UConn, as well as preceding presidents at UConn, have received higher salaries, and we would like to make sure President Herbst stays with the university."

Slap said that if information about the foundation's donors was to be made public, then different donors would not continue to give money. There was a hearing on Feb. 26 in which donors and fellow universities reported on whether to release donor information.

“Those of us who are responsible for UConn’s success must understand how our actions impact the rest of the team” UConn men's basketball coach Kevin Ollie said. “In this case, passing legislation that exposes our donors’ personal financial information will make it more difficult to raise funds for important initiatives.”

Organizations like the Freedom of Information Commission are strong supporters of legislation that would allow for the release of donors information.

“Simply put, we believe that public confidence in higher education foundations cannot be fully achieved if the foundations continue to be shielded from public scrutiny by their exclusion from the definition of public agency and the provisions of the FOI Act,” said Mary Schwind, managing director and associate general counsel for the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission.