CSU Stanislaus President Hamid Shirvani has hurled some accusations of his own Wednesday in the case involving the contract of Sarah Palin for a speaking visit to the university. His statement came one day after Senator Leland Yee held a press conference accusing the university of withholding public records and destroying documents relating to the former Vice Presidential candidate’s visit to the campus.
Senator Yee asked Attorney General Jerry Brown to investigate and late Tuesday, the AG’s office acknowledged they will look into allegations along with an array of fiscal documents involving the university’s foundation.
In a statement released Wednesday, the President accused the Senator of using the legal response from the university for further political gain. “The fact is that the contract with the Washington Speakers Bureau to retain Gov. Palin is between the Bureau and the University Foundation,” President Shrivani said in the statement. “That is why in the response to the public records act request, our campus compliance officer stated ‘The University has no documents that are responsive to your request.’”
He then accused the students of stealing the contract. “Drafts that were discarded were noticed missing from her office and the matter has been referred to the Stanislaus County District Attorney, City of Turlock Police and University Campus Police as well. We are not able to comment on an active police investigation.”
On Tuesday, Terry Francke from the group Calaware, said that he “regards these documents as university documents and not simply foundation documents, because there’s such a tight interlacing of the functions. Not just the practical day-to-day functions, but the official duties of the university officers and the operation of the foundation.”
In a release from Senator Yee’s office they cite the fact that the chair of the foundation is the campus president Hamid Shrivani, a state employee who makes upwards of $300,000 per year. Moreover the officers are all employees of the university as is every staff member listed on the foundation website with one exception. The foundation’s website is located at the taxpayer-funded www.csustan.edu.
Furthermore, the Palin fundraiser solicitation and information line is a university telephone number at the university advancement office. The foundation’s offices are housed within the campus administration’s building and fully staffed by university employees. The foundation board meetings are held at the campus using public resources. Finally, the work of the foundation is conducted using CSU Stanislaus email accounts, telephones, computers and other taxpayer-funded resources.
As Senator Yee said last Thursday, “There is not a fine line or even a blurry line between the foundation and the public university; there is absolutely no line.”
Senator Yee Responds
Shirvani’s Campus Compliance Officer, responded to a public records request by Senator Yee for such documents last week stating, “The University has no documents that are responsive to your request.”
Senator Yee responded Wednesday by asking, “How can you lose something you said you didn’t have?”
“President Shirvani needs to stop the double-talk and start explaining the vast irregularity and impropriety surrounding his office,” said Senator Yee. “California taxpayers and CSU students deserve answers now.”
The Senator cites a 2001 court case involving a foundation at Fresno State that required the public disclose of documents because they were held within the university itself. The CSU Stanislaus Foundation, which is planning the Palin visit at taxpayer expense, is fully housed within the administration’s offices and staffed by public employees using public resources.
“The law is clear and the courts have ruled – foundation documents are to be made public if they are held by the university, which by the administration’s own admission, is the case here,” said Senator Yee.
The university has attempted to use a second excuse to justify the secrecy of the Palin contract, Senator Yee’s release stated, by highlighting a confidentiality clause in her contract, however, state law specifically prohibits such clauses in contracts subject to the CPRA and if such stipulations are included, they are superseded by the public records act and require disclosure.
Moreover, as Senator Yee’s office points out, the University has failed to explain why public documents are being destroyed.
“Irrespective of the Palin documents, the university has failed to explain why hundreds of other public documents – some shredded and others intact – were placed in the dumpster during an employee furlough day,” said Senator Yee. “CSU policy and state law clearly calls for retention of such documents.”
The Senator cites Government Code 14755 states, “(a) No record shall be destroyed or otherwise disposed of by any agency of the state, unless it is determined by the director that the record has no further administrative, legal, or fiscal value and the Secretary of State has determined that the record is inappropriate for preservation in the State Archives; (b) The director shall not authorize the destruction of any record subject to audit until he or she has determined that the audit has been performed.”
California Faculty Association Criticizes CSUS President
“This is clearly an attempt by a desperate administrator to distract us from his own mismanagement in the face of an investigation by the attorney general,” Ms. Taiz said Wednesday. “President Shirvani’s attempt to scapegoat the students is nothing more than a smokescreen to divert attention from the real problems that have occurred under his watch.”
There is concern on the part of the faculty association about the University President bullying students. “I want to be very clear that faculty of the CSU system will not tolerate threats or bullying by President Shirvani or any other administrator on this matter,” she said. “Members of our campus community have the right to speak truth to power. These students deserve an opportunity to express their dissent about problems taking place on their campus. We will rigorously defend them against any acts of retaliation.”
Alicia Lewis, one of the students at the press conference Tuesday who found the contract told the Modesto Bee that the alegation that they had stolen the document from inside the building was a “falsehood. We didn’t even enter the building.”
She also said that she’s not worried about the possibility of Turlock police investigating the incident because the group has nothing to hide. “We’re upset, but at the same time we’re confident that we’re in the right.”
The Attorney General’s office has “launched a broad investigation into the California State University Stanislaus Foundation to include an examination of its finances and the alleged dumping of documents into a university dumpster.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting