April 9, 2009

Transparency in higher-ed meets resistance [Updated]

Back in 2007, UNLV officials rejected a Las Vegas Sun request for information about university employees who earned outside income. The Sun wanted the information to investigate potential conflict of interests.

Nevada System of Higher Education rules designed to inform UNLV officials about potential conflicts of interest among university employees earning outside income also allow officials to withhold that information from the public.

UNLV General Counsel Richard Linstrom cited those rules in denying a Sun request for copies of outside income disclosure forms submitted in the past year by faculty members and other employees.

The issue spurred State Sen. Terry Care to introduce Senate Bill 279 (PDF warning).

S.B. 279 states:

If a state officer or employee enters into a contract or other agreement to provide his professional services to a person or governmental entity other than his employer ... the state officer or employee shall file a notice of the contract or agreement with his employer as soon as practicable after entering into the contract or agreement.

Yet, as one might expected, the bill has met resistance.

Jane Nichols, vice chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education and James Richardson of the Nevada Faculty Alliance told members of the Senate Government Affairs Committee they were concerned companies won’t hire professors for independent work if that information is disclosed to competitors.

They then go on to mention that the university already has a "rigorous plan" to prevent conflicts although the records stay private.

Even if they have an outstanding system for rooting out conflicts of interest among their professors, there is no way for the public to know how "rigorous" their plan is if the public can't verify it for themselves.

Update (4/9/09): The bill was defeated in committee by a vote of 4-3 on Wednesday.