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Penn State Argues Against Possible Right-to-Know Changes

Penn State said yesterday in front of the State Senate that it should not be fully covered under Right-to-Know Law.

Lisa Powers, Penn State spokeswoman, says Penn State, along with the three other state related universities University of Pittsburgh, Temple University and Lincoln University, all appeared in Harrisburg Monday to discuss with state officials proposed changes in Right-to-Know laws in the state. While the universities are subject to certain provision of Right-to-Know, making the universities fully under the law might hurt them, Powers says.

The main issue the universities have is that they are not state agencies, so they would not have the sovereign immunity protection from lawsuits if they were to be fully under Right-to-Know. Powers says defining Penn State as a state agency is contrary to the fundamental design of the state-related universities, and defining the state-related universities as state agencies could yield unintended consequences.

“There are some classified contracts in terms of research dollars that would definitely be a competitive disadvantage if we had to share that documentation,” Powers says. “There is also donor information as well as students information.”

Penn State’s General Counsel Steve Dunham was questioned before the the senate on the proposed changes to Right-to-Know.

“We are clearly public universities,” Dunham says according to a release issued by Penn State. “But we have private attributes and characteristics in both the way we get funding and the way we perform our services.”

Some of these characteristics include the medical school and the health care environment in which Penn State operates as well as tech-transfer functions that major research universities, such as Penn State, are involved in.

Dunham’s office deferred comment to Powers.

Powers further says that Penn State has always been compliant with its Right-to-Know mandates, and that they are in agreement with the senate as to some changes in coverage of the university.

One of the proposed changes Penn State doesn’t have a problem with is to make campus police departments fully under Right-to-Know law.

Penn State already has to disclose some of it’s information as a result of Right-to-Know. Penn State has to make financial disclosures to make sure theyare accountable for the funds they receive from the state. Penn State also has to disclose data each year on academic related matters as well as data regarding faculty and staff workload.

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