The University of California has flunked a public records response test from an open government group.

The 10-campus UC system received an F in basic transparency from the nonprofit watchdog group Californians Aware, which asked campuses for contracts, ethics forms and spending reports.

The California State University system fared better in the survey, receiving a B. Audits of both systems are being made public Monday.

The public records were requested Nov. 29, but UC responses lagged, according to the audit results.

"There's a pretty nasty trend here. It's hard not to fault the UC (campuses)," said Emily Francke, the group's executive director.

UC Berkeley scored highest among individual campuses, earning a C. The only other campuses to avoid F grades were Merced and San Diego, which both received Ds.

A UC spokesman said Friday it was difficult to respond to the audit without seeing it, but said the system does a better job in allowing access to records than its grade suggests.

He also disputed some of the audit's findings. The audit said UC San Francisco failed to acknowledge repeated requests for the annual ethics forms of top officials, reimbursement and credit car expenses, its chancellor's contract and other documents.

But UC spokesman Steve Montiel said the records were e-mailed Jan. 11 and the request was closed.


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Francke said CalAware has no record of receiving the documents. Still, she said it would not have changed UCSF's grade because of the lengthy response time. The law requires public agencies to respond to such requests within 10 days.

Other audit findings on UC were:

  • All campuses refused to make annual statements of economic interests of top officials available locally, instead referring requests for those documents to the office of the UC president in Oakland.

  • Six campuses, Irvine, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz, failed to acknowledge the requests within 10 days as mandated by law.

  • Most failed to release documents within 30 days despite state law mandating records should be "promptly" available to the public.

  • Of the 10 campuses, only officials at UC Santa Barbara were credited with helping Francke focus the request or not presenting unnecessary obstacles to the release of records.

    Montiel said UC's policy is that statements of economic interests are maintained in the administrative headquarters in Oakland and defended the practice of referring requesters there.

    "The legal entity of the university is the Office of the President," he said.

    Francke dismissed that argument, saying copies of the forms should be kept at campuses were they can be publicly accessed.

    "People at the campuses were very evasive about whether they had them," she said.

    Cal State campuses fared better. Four Bay Area campuses, Cal State East Bay and San Jose, San Francisco and Sonoma state, received A-pluses, according to the results.

    "We take this seriously," said Michael Uhlenkamp, a CSU spokesman in Long Beach. "The campuses handle a lot of requests and the (requested documents) were fairly standardized."

    Cal State was faulted, however, for charging 20 cents per page for paper copies. State law allows government to charge "the direct cost of duplication" for copies, which a 2006 state justice department study said is 10 cents per page.

    Uhlenkamp said the systemwide 20-cent per copy fee is based on the expenses associated with copying, such as paper, electricity and pay rate of people making copies.

    Californians Aware has sued the Contra Costa County Community College District over what it says are excessive copy costs, at 25 cents per page.

    Francke said the organization may sue others -- including the Cal State system -- if it can't force the lowering of copy costs.

    Reach investigative reporter Thomas Peele at tpeele@bayreanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/thomas_peele.

    Campus grades
  • UC Berkeley: C
  • UC Santa Cruz: F
  • UC system: F
  • Cal State East Bay: A-plus
  • San Jose State: A-plus
  • San Francisco State: A-plus
  • Cal State system: B
    Source: Californians Aware