Transparency and cooperation 'outside president's purview'

President Tripathi refuses to pursue greater UB Foundation budget clarity

With a proverbial shrug of the shoulders and turn of the cheek, UB President Satish Tripathi has casually committed to maintaining UB Foundation's lack of transparency.

Tripathi has denied a December call from the UB Faculty Senate to make public the budget of the UB Foundation (UBF), the private organization that controls nearly $1 billion of UB assets and endowment funds. As reported in The Spectrum Wednesday, Tripathi released a dismissively short, vague letter responding simply that calling for UBF's budget to be public was "outside of [his] purview."

Never mind that Tripathi sits on the UBF's board of trustees and compensation committee. The Faculty Senate's letter requesting greater transparency in how UBF funds are distributed is certainly merited. In a surprising moment of collective action for a group that rarely has enough members present to take votes on resolutions, the Senate's call for greater transparency surrounding the endowment follows a growing trend, as evidenced by a similar legislative move in California requiring university foundations to publicize records.

Tripathi's letter states much of UBF's financial information is already available. He fails to mention much of the most pertinent information is hidden behind vacuous labels, like the nearly $52 million for "other fees and services."

Because UBF is a private institution, it is not subject to Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests. Tripathi responded in the letter to the request from the Senate to release the UBF budget "as if it were subject to FOIL" by stating that was beyond his "legal authority."

Naturally, this claim raised a question. With his position in the university and on the board of UBF, doesn't Tripathi have the clout to, if not unilaterally enact, at least encourage the budget release by working with faculty and the foundation's board?

This question was, in fact, asked of the president in a Faculty Senate executive session Wednesday. Tripathi responded, in a word, no.

What is most disconcerting is that this university's president would refuse to cooperate with the Senate, which represents collective faculty concerns, to address such a pressing issue - transparency for such a significant portion of the university's endowment. What is most ironic is that in December, the administration - in response to the Senate's original motion - stated, "[UB] values transparency and understands the importance of being transparent."

Apparently, working with faculty to meet this end requires too much commitment to uphold these "values."

The use of the UBF's nearly $1 billion of funds is of significant importance to students and faculty at this university. The money is used for everything from student scholarships to pay "top-offs" for faculty. The distribution of this endowment directly affects those who study, teach and work at and for this public institution.

An indifferent response to legitimate faculty concerns regarding a necessary and laudable cause exemplifies both weak leadership and carelessness that is reprehensible at such a high level of office. The university, its faculty and students deserve more than a cold, calloused reply delivered in a typically bureaucratic tone, dated one month after receipt of the Senate's initial letter.

Tripathi insists UBF is outside of his "purview."

Publicizing the budget is within the purview of the UBF board of trustees. Encouraging budgetary transparency, and expressing faculty concerns about it, is within the purview of the Faculty Senate. Cooperating with the faculty at the university he leads and working with the UBF board of trustees on which he sits is within the purview of President Tripathi.

Beyond that, it's within his responsibility as president of this university.