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Faculty Senate asks that UBF ‘open its books’

By SUE WUETCHER and CHARLOTTE HSU

Published June 19, 2014

The Faculty Senate voted at its meeting Tuesday to ask the university administration to make the UB Foundation’s budget public.

The 38-17 vote in favor of the resolution asking that the UBF “open its books” — the senate achieved a quorum for the first time in recent memory — was on the second reading of the resolution. It now goes to President Satish K. Tripathi, who will review it and make a final decision on whether the resolution becomes university policy.

In response to the resolution, UB issued a statement saying that the university “values transparency and understands the importance of being transparent and forthright in its endeavors and communications.”

“This is an important and useful discussion for the university community to be having,” the statement read. “The university will review and consider the Faculty Senate resolution after it has been formally presented to the president. As is the protocol, a formal response will be provided to the Faculty Senate after careful consideration of the resolution.”

UBF advances the mission of the university through its support of specific activities and programs, in part by managing gifts and grants on behalf of the university. Many UB employees and student workers receive their pay through the foundation, which also provides financial support for scholarships, faculty research and travel, major capital projects, laboratory equipment, arts and cultural programs, and other initiatives that benefit UB and its various schools, departments and units.

In accordance with state law, the foundation is considered an entity independent of UB and, therefore, its financial records, including how it spends its money, are private. In 2011, the State Supreme Court ruled that the UB Foundation is not an agency or public body governed by New York’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) or Open Meetings Law. The court found that none of the foundation’s entities had the attributes of governmental entities performing a governmental or proprietary function for SUNY or the state.

The Faculty Senate resolution, drafted by Kenneth Dauber, professor of English, stated that the Faculty Senate is responsible for providing oversight of UB’s budget and recommending funding priorities — a task, he said, that may be difficult when the senate does not have complete information about how money is being used on behalf of the university. The resolution asks that the budget of UBF and its associated foundations be made available “as if it were subject to FOIL.”

The Faculty Senate’s bylaws do not include budget oversight as part of its duties. The senate’s Budget Priorities Committee is charged with "advising the senior administration on matters concerning the development of the university budget and shall recommend criteria for the allocation for university budgeted funds related to the initiation, development and implementation of the educational program.”

Opponents of the resolution pointed out that many of the foundation’s financial records already are publicly available on the foundation website and are disclosed in the foundation’s public IRS filings. Other concerns include the potential that donors to the university would lose their privacy as a result, which would negatively impact university fundraising , and that it would impede public-private collaborations, such as the joint effort between UB and Kaleida Health that led to construction of the Gates Vascular Institute and Clinical and Translational Research Center in downtown Buffalo.

The full resolution can be viewed on the Faculty Senate’s website. Scroll down to item 6. 

In an email to the UB Reporter, Dauber noted that one of the things that makes UB a wonderful place to teach and do research is “the openness of discourse here, the freedom to exchange ideas …”

“It is important to maintain this freedom of exchange, and the ‘privacy’ of UBF — particularly now, when UBF accounts for more and more of UB’s budget — seriously impedes it,” he wrote. “How can faculty give input on budget priorities, as it is mandated to do in the charter of the Faculty Senate, when it is simply ignorant of what a major and increasing portion of that budget is? How can administration and faculty maintain trust in each other when they do not share the same information?”

Laura Hubbard, UB vice president for finance and administration, pointed out that unrestricted operating revenues made available to UB from UBF funds actually constitute a small portion — less than 2 percent — out of $600 million in UB’s total operating revenues.

“Most of the funds managed by UBF are restricted and therefore can only be used for very specific purposes designated by donors,” she said. 

READER COMMENT

Is this a news story or a position brief authored by the administration? "The Faculty Senate's bylaws do not include budget oversight as part of its duties. The senate's Budget Priorities Committee is charged with 'advising the senior administration on matters concerning the development of the university budget and shall recommend criteria for the allocation for university budgeted funds related to the initiation, development and implementation of the educational program?'"

 

So advising on the development and allocation of the budget related to the educational program of the university isn't "oversight?" What would "oversight" be, then? This quotation, incidentally, is not from the senate bylaws, as implied, but is an inexact quotation from the Senate Standing Orders.

 

Also, Ms. Hubbard's comments on "restricted" and "unrestricted" funds are purposely or accidentally confusing. The 2011-12 audit of the UB Foundation and its affiliates reports "unrestricted" assets totaling more than $170 million, "temporarily restricted" assets totaling more than $359 million, and "restricted" assets worth $146 million, with some of the income on the latter falling into the "unrestricted" category as well.

 

James Holstun