Sonoma State University gets an 'A+' for records transparency

Sonoma State University is getting top marks from a watchdog organization for upholding the state's public records law, though some critics find the acclaim at odds with reality.

SSU received an A+ in an audit of public universities released Monday by Californians Aware, a nonprofit group dedicated to open governance.

The group sent public information requests to all 23 branches of the California State University system and the 10 members of the University of California.

The queries made a half dozen demands, including asking for copies of a school's contract with its president or chancellor, for recent credit card statements by the president or chancellor, and for its Form 700, which declares a president or chancellor's economic interests.

SSU sailed through with a perfect score, one of 10 CSUs to receive an A+, thanks to sufficiently quick responses. On average, the system scored a B, with just two CSU schools, Chico and Fullerton, receiving F's after failing to provide any information within 30 days.

"We do as much as we can to be as public as we can about anything that might be of interest to the public," said Susan Kashack, SSU's associate vice president for marketing and communication.

The grade, however, runs contrary to the impressions of some SSU faculty who've long complained about lack of openness on the Green Music Center, whose projected costs rose tenfold over a decade of construction.

"We have tried consistently without success to get SSU transparency regarding the business affairs around the Green Music Center," said Bob Karlsrud, professor emeritus at the school. "When meetings are held at the insistence of the faculty, administrators filibuster these meetings until the great majority of the audience has left."

Any suggestion that SSU is an exemplar of openness leaves him "flabbergasted," Karlsrud said.

The SSU Academic Foundation, a nonprofit auxiliary foundation chaired by SSU president Ruben Armi?na, has also come under heavy criticism for lacking transparency. The issue flared after former foundation board member Clem Carinalli filed bankruptcy in 2009, which revealed he had received millions of dollars in loans from the foundation.

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