The Buffalo Center Chapter of the United University Professions (UUP), UB's union representing academic and professional employees, came to a resolution last Friday requesting the UB Foundation (UBF) be more transparent in and accountable for its financial decisions.
UBF is a non-profit, private organization that handles the millions of dollars in donations UB receives annually. The organization legally does not have to disclose any financial records because it is a separate entity from UB.
The resolution states: "Accountability and transparency in decisions regarding spending for public purposes by public officials is vital to maintaining public trust and excellence in public institutions such as the University at Buffalo. Be it resolved that the Buffalo Center Chapter of the UUP requests that University at Buffalo demonstrate its leadership in public accountability and transparency by making available records of budgets, revenue, spending, and related policies involving UB Foundation funds as if those records were subject to the proposed FOIL legislation."
The Spectrum contacted UBF Executive Director Ed Schneider, who said he was unfamiliar with UUP's resolution. He said he "welcomes the dialogue" but declined comment for the time being.
"Though technically UBF and its affiliates are private, the money they are stewards over has been contributed, one way or another, mostly by New York State citizens," said James Holstun, an English professor and member of UUP. "The owners of UB, like the owners of SUNY, are the citizens of the state and they have the right to know how their state university is being run - and if it's being run in an honest and responsible way or an irresponsible way."
Martha McCluskey, a law professor, faculty senator and member of UUP, brought the issues forward at a UUP meeting. She said UUP supports the proposed New York State legislation that would include foundations like UB's under the definition of a "state agency." According to the law, these entities would be subject to Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests.
Jim Serwinowski, UUP's communication officer, said the resolution was met with support from the majority of those who attended the meeting. He said he couldn't speak on behalf of UUP but he could as a union member.
"We don't have any power to do anything. We aren't an oversight committee or anything like that," Serwinowski said. "It was more in line to keep what is in the best interest of people involved with the university. [UUP] want[s] to see that the money isn't being funneled to different groups who are opposed to university initiatives."
Holstun said he was heavily involved in both this resolution and the Faculty Senate's similar decision in December 2013. He said informing the UB community about this pressing issue is important and that is one reason he is passionate about this initiative.
"We work at a university. And at a university, ideas are supposed to matter, not just corporate power," Holstun said. "We are trying to remind the UB administration in Capen Hall that they run a university, too. It's not all about power and secrecy and who has the most money. And it's not all about profits; it's about education."
Holstun spoke at the meeting in favor of the resolution. He told union members of various UBF happenings in the news, including an illegal $2,560 campaign contribution UBF gave Congressman Chris Collins. The matter was resolved with Collins' campaign returning the money to UBF.
"People can invoke the idea that this is a private corporation. But it isn't a private corporation without any responsibility," Holstun said. "It is a big pot of money, and the people who are supposedly the stewards of it need to be transparent to the people whose money it is. It's as basic as that, and it's time for a change."
Paul Zarembka, a former president and grievance officer for academics of the UUP and current member of the union, said the resolutions are used to "guide an institution as to its program of action."