Scrutiny for Pa. universities' records exemption

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - November 19, 2011

Democratic state Sen. John Blake of Lackawanna County told The (Allentown) Morning Call ( ) that he hopes to introduce a bill early next year to end the disclosure exemption for Penn State, Temple and Lincoln universities as well as the University of Pittsburgh.

The exemption has come under scrutiny since Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was accused of sexual abuse involving eight boys over 15 years. School administrators Tim Curley and Gary Schultz are charged with not properly alerting authorities to suspected abuse and with perjury. In the wake of the scandal, Joe Paterno, Division I's winningest coach with 409 victories, was fired by university trustees. University president Graham Spanier also left his job under pressure

Terry Mutchler, executive director of the state Office of Open Records, says the four universities are required to disclose "nothing, zippo" under current law, even though they receive hundreds of millions of dollars each year in state funds. That stands in contrast for the disclosure requirements for the most obscure state agencies or the smallest municipal government, not to mention the 14 state-owned schools in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, which are fully subject to the law, Mutchler said.

Republican Gov. Tom Corbett and Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, both said they support reviewing the open records law, which was considered one of the weakest laws in the nation until it was changed. The Right-to-Know law now assumes that most records are public, with specific exemptions, reversing a longstanding rule requiring residents to prove why records were public when they requested them.

Pileggi said Friday that he wants to "review our entire system of open records as it pertains to our state-related universities." Corbett's spokesman, Kevin Harley, said the governor believes "it is time to examine whether (Penn State) should be subject to broad exemptions of the Right-to-Know Law."

Blake said he has been considering changes to the statute since his days as a senior Rendell administration official in the state Department of Community and Economic Development, which includes the Office of Open Records, but the scandal at Penn State has put new emphasis on those efforts.

"Certainly, a higher level of scrutiny could have revealed something and allowed for earlier detection" in the case, he said.

Officials at the schools have argued in favor of the exemption because they are quasi-public institutions, receiving a mix of private and public money. Spanier and other officials have said that including the universities in the law would discourage donors who wish to remain anonymous and could raise intellectual property issues, among other concerns.

Copyright © 2023 WPVI-TV. All Rights Reserved.