S.B. 333, “An Act Concerning the Foundation of Constituent Units and Public Institutions of Higher Education,” was introduced by State Sen. Mae Flexer (D-Killingly) and Representative John Hampton (D-Simsbury) this past month. The proposed bill, which would alter the transparency and disclosure laws the UConn Foundation is subject to, has cleared the Joint Higher Education Committee and is now in front of the state senate for consideration. While ideally the Foundation would be fully subject to FOI laws, this legislation is a good step forward.
The foundation has willingly published some details about how it receives and spends its money, however it is not required to do so by law and maintains a great deal of discretion. S.B. 333 would change this so that the foundation must submit a yearly financial report to the legislature that would ultimately become public. Such a report would include aggregate amounts of disbursements/payments by category, not individual items, including: undergraduate and graduate scholarships; fellowships and awards; program and research support; equipment and facilities construction, improvements, and related expenses.
The bill would also create an “opt-out” option for private donors, meaning the foundation would disclose donor names unless they individually requested otherwise. Currently, donor names are automatically kept private. Many donors likely will not have privacy issues, and thus it should be no issue that their names enter a public record. Ideally, all donations would be public, given the understandable role the UConn Foundation plays working with a public institution, but given the need some individuals and organizations may have for privacy, it is an acceptable compromise for the time being.
Furthermore, the bill sets parameters to eventually wean the foundation off of UConn itself as a source funding as the foundation’s endowment increases, according to the CT Mirror. UConn itself gave the foundation $8 million last year, approximately 45 percent of the organization’s budget. Removing these public funds will not only quell some of the public information and privacy concerns, but it allows UConn to reallocate those funds elsewhere which is necessary given the current climate of budget cuts.
After legislation that would subject the Foundation to full FOI disclosure failed to leave the committee stage last year, S.B. 333 is a sign of promise and step in the right direction that should be supported. It is a show of progress that maintains donor privacy and anonymity while also increasing transparency, even if incrementally, of the quasi-public foundation.