Concealing donor names prevents accountability

The emcee in the musical “Cabaret” once sang, “Money makes the world go around.”

Kentucky universities and colleges are depending more on financial gifts from individuals and corporations in the wake of declining state appropriations. A donor’s impact on Western’s future, as a result, has become more significant.

Western administrators still need to be responsible and report who is paying the bills even if it’s coming from private donations. Western is a public university serving Kentucky’s citizens; those citizens have a right to follow the money that flows into Western’s piggy bank and the donors who shape its future.

But citizens would lose that right if Kentucky’s Senate has its way. Under an amendment to its budget bill, individuals and corporations would be allowed to make confidential donations to public colleges and universities. The schools could only make a donor’s name and contribution public if they receive written permission from the donor.

Kentucky citizens currently have the right to know clearly what the government is doing under its open record laws. Public universities and colleges still fall under the umbrella of the government.

Under these open record laws, no one would dare accept a gift from the Mafia or a member of the Ku Klux Klan. No one would want to deal with the consequences. But the temptation to even accept such a gift could exist should this amendment become law. It’s easier for someone to do something wrong if they don’t have to take any responsibility. The state should not pass anything that would make it easier to commit unethical acts.

Accounting scandals like Enron have caused the public to want to know where corporations get and spend every last dollar. Public universities are not excluded from such a demand. If anything, they are under even more scrutiny.

University officials, including President Gary Ransdell and Tom Hiles, vice president for Institutional Advancement, and the Board of Regents, would know the identity of all donors. While they have Western’s best interests in heart, they are still human. They will make bad decisions once in a while. If Western was to accept a gift from the wrong people, under this law, there would be no way for anyone to call them out on it. If it leaked out that Western accepted a bad gift, it could destroy the university’s credibility.

Citizens are responsible to make sure people like Hiles and Ransdell are making the right decisions, or if they make bad ones, to take responsibility for them. It’s not that Western has anything to hide, but its unreasonable to allow a bill that would even allow the appearance of shady business going on in Western’s institutional advancement offices.

Obviously, Western would lose out on potential benefits of the bill if the amendment doesn’t pass. For example, if donors are allowed to keep their names confidential, there will probably be people who would be more willing to give.

Hiles said some donors do not want the public to know they gave so much money because it could cause them to be vulnerable to unsolicited donation requests from charities and other family members.

There have been cases at Western of donors receiving undeserving harassment. In September, retired Dollar General CEO Cal Turner Jr., who donated $500,000 toward a professorship in Western’s School of Journalism and Broadcasting, was subject to criticism after The Courier-Journal published a story that said the executive was related to Lucas B. Goodrum, who will go on trial this summer for the murder of Pellville freshman Katie Autry.

But in the end, harassment and extra funds will eventually disappear. But a bad decision caused by a lack of accountability will have negative effects in the long run that may be costly for generations of Western students.

This editorial represents the majority opinion of the Herald’s 9-member board of student editors.