A university spokesperson and the CEO of the University at Buffalo Foundation, the university’s private endowment fund, separately declined to provide copies of the foundation’s contracts with the headliners of this year’s Distinguished Speakers Series. Both also declined to provide any information about the contracts, including how the UB Foundation paid each speaker for their lectures.
Doug Sitler, a university spokesperson, said in an email to The Spectrum that the contracts “are not public information” since the UB Foundation is a private entity. Stacy Knapper, the CEO of the UB Foundation, said that the foundation “is not subject to the New York Freedom of Information Law and so must decline” The Spectrum’s request.
New York’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) allows private citizens to access government records, with certain exceptions. The UB Foundation is not subject to FOIL, but FOIL does not prevent the foundation from disclosing the contracts. The UB Foundation has complete discretion over whether to release the contracts or information about them, according to a UB press release.
The Distinguished Speakers Series is funded entirely by ticket sales, sponsorships and foundation endowments, according to the university. No state funding or tuition revenue are used.
This year’s slate of speakers included Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones and TV wildlife conservationist Jeff Corwin. Winston Duke was expected to kick off the series, but his speech was rescheduled before being canceled altogether “due to a conflict with Mr. Duke’s filming schedule,” according to the series’ website.
A Spectrum investigation found that the UB Foundation paid then-former Vice President Joe Biden $200,000 to be a part of the 2018-19 Distinguished Speakers Series. Of that total, $190,000 was for the speech and associated events and $10,000 was for travel-related expenses.
The UB Foundation is the wealthiest nonprofit organization in Western New York and the largest in the SUNY system, according to The Buffalo News. The foundation held just over $1.3 billion in net assets in 2021, according to its 2020-21 audited financial statement.
Grant Ashley is a senior news/features editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Grant Ashley is the editor in chief of The Spectrum. He's also reported for WBFO, WIVB and The Buffalo News. He enjoys taking long bike rides, baking with his parents’ ingredients and recreating Bob Ross paintings in crayon. He can be found on the platform formerly known as Twitter at @Grantrashley.