Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

December 8, 2011

4 state relateds could lose

Right-to-Know exemption

In the wake of the scandal involving alleged child sex abuse at Penn State, two state representatives are introducing legislation that would expand Right-to-Know requirements for Pennsylvania’s four state-related universities.

House Bill 2051, introduced by state Rep. Eugene DePasquale (D-York) on Dec. 5, would amend the definition of “commonwealth agency” in Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law to include state-related institutions.

A similar bill was to be introduced today by Rep. Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre/Mifflin). As in DePasquale’s bill, under Benninghoff’s bill, records of state-related universities would be presumed to be public records and treated in a manner similar to the records of many other state and local agencies.

The Right-to-Know Law, which was revamped in 2008, requires state and municipal agencies to make records such as financial documents and contracts public. Exceptions include records that, if disclosed, would result in the loss of federal or state funding or would endanger public safety, an individual’s personal security, building or infrastructure security or computer networks. Also excluded from disclosure are individuals’ medical history or health information and personal information including Social Security numbers and home addresses.

In testimony at a public hearing prior to the passage of the 2008 Right-to-Know legislation, representatives from the state-related universities opposed including the schools, citing risks to privacy, competitive disadvantages and potential damage to research and commercial interests. (See June 14, 2007, University Times.)

Although the State System of Higher Education schools fall under the open records requirements, Pitt, Penn State, Temple and Lincoln only are required to file an annual report containing information required on the IRS 990 form as well as the salaries of all officers and directors of the institution and the salaries of the 25 highest-paid employees of the institution. (Tax-exempt organizations use the 990 to report financial information including fundraising and lobbying expenses, payments to independent contractors, and compensation for senior officers, directors, trustees and their five highest-paid employees.) The University’s most recent Right-to-Know disclosures can be found at

Benninghoff told the University Times, “Repealing that exemption is the right thing to do,” adding that there is no reason why the state-related schools cannot operate under the same right-to-know requirements that the state-owned schools do.  Benninghoff, who was on the House Speaker’s Commission on Legislative Reform when the Right-to-Know legislation was being updated, said he had never agreed that any entity like the state-related schools should be exempt. “It’s more prudent to require anyone who receives public money to fall under the purview of the law,” with no special privileges for some, he said.

DePasquale, in a Nov. 15 memo seeking co-sponsors for his bill, stated that the state’s General Assembly “must hold entities affiliated with the commonwealth accountable for their actions and ensure that the activities of those associated with these organizations are legal, ethical and moral.”

Labeling his proposed legislation “another step towards transparency,” his memo stated that his proposal also would “allow for the monitoring of not only the actions of Pennsylvania government, but also those organizations affiliated with it,” to protect Pennsylvanians’ interests and investment in the state’s future.

A Senate bill also is in the works. Sen. John Blake  (D-Lackawanna), in a Nov. 28 memo that sought co-sponsors for his proposed legislation, stated that Pennsylvania, Delaware and Alaska are the only states that exempt state-related universities’ records from open-records provisions. “Our institutions of higher learning are powerful engines for the state’s economy. They are world-class institutions and we need to ensure they remain so,” he stated in the memo, adding that his plan to expand the schools’ right-to-know responsibilities is not intended to undermine their competitiveness or economic impact. He acknowledged in the memo that the alleged abuses at Penn State could not have been prevented by such legislation but said the facts could have been uncovered sooner if such legislation had been in place. He added there remains “plenty of room for improvement in the level of transparency and accountability we can expect from these institutions.”

Luc Miron, Blake’s chief of staff, told the University Times that the senator’s bill, which is to be introduced “in the next few weeks,” currently has approximately 11 co-sponsors.

Paul A. Supowitz, vice chancellor for Governmental Relations, told the University Times that Pitt has “specific and extensive reporting requirements” under the Right-to-Know Law, along with annual financial disclosures and other state-required reports related to Pitt’s appropriation.

“Lots of people don’t realize the volume of information that’s out there,” he said.

Information on the state-related schools’ full-time faculty/staff pay, retirement and tuition benefit policies, revenues and expenditures and certain goods and services contracts that exceed $1,000 are required as part of Pennsylvania’s public school code. The individual schools’ documents, totaling hundreds of pages, can be found by clicking on “The Snyder Report” at An annual report summarizing the state relateds’ data is available at

In addition, the University’s annual audited financial statement and an annual audit of its state appropriation are disclosed.

Along with its required state reports, the University provides information on educational programs, budgets, graduation rates and other student information to the state Department of Education.

At the federal level, the University reports information to the U.S. Department of Education. Institutional characteristics; enrollment, graduation rates and degree completion figures; faculty and staff counts and faculty salary data; student financial aid, and other financial data about Pitt can be found through the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) at

Supowitz maintained that Pitt is different from the state system schools in that “they are state-owned and akin to a commonwealth agency,” while Pitt is its own corporate entity as a not-for-profit educational institution.

“They get about half their funding from the state,” he said of the state system schools. “We get 7 percent.”

Pitt’s current operating budget totals $1.94 billion. Its fiscal year 2012 general appropriation is $136.1 million and medical school funding adds another $8.1 million. (See July 21 University Times.)

Following Harrisburg’s renewed interest in eliminating the state-related schools’ exemption under the Right-to-Know Law, University representatives are explaining those details to legislators, noting that many don’t realize what Pitt already is doing in terms of reporting.

“Right now we are trying to listen to legislators and determine what it is they aren’t getting that they need and see a legitimate public need for,” Supowitz said.

Given that there are only a few session days left this month in Harrisburg, Supowitz said the issue likely will continue into 2012. He said he expects extensive discussion on various proposals and wouldn’t rule out the possibility of public hearings on the issue.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 44 Issue 8

Leave a Reply