Students at California State University Stanislaus have allegedly found evidence the university lied about and tried to destroy documents related to an upcoming event with former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, said today.
Two of the students, political science majors Ashli Briggs and Alicia Lewis, appeared with Yee at a news conference in Sacramento Tuesday to describe how they and three other students found shredded university documents and a discarded speaker’s contract outside the university administration building in Turlock on Friday.
The contract appears to be for an upcoming 50th anniversary fundraising gala hosted by the CSU Stanislaus Foundation, which will feature Palin as the keynote speaker.
Yee said the foundation recently refused to disclose Palin’s speaker fee or provide him with information about the $500-per-ticket event. When he made a public records request, the school said no such documents existed.
On Friday, the students went to the school’s Turlock campus after an acquaintance told them about suspicious activity at the administration building, which was supposed to be empty due to a state-mandated furlough day.
Students on campus knew Briggs and Lewis were interested in the issue because the young women had started a Facebook group about the Palin speech and appeared on The O’Reilly Factor to discuss issues surrounding the foundation’s transparency.
When they arrived on campus, several faculty vehicles were parked in front of the administration building, and the president’s space was occupied, Briggs and Lewis said.
They dug through a Dumpster outside and found shredded documents on university letterhead, and found five pages of a contract with a speaker who required first-class air travel from Anchorage, Alaska.
The pages did not name Palin or include the speaker’s fee, but the contract was from the Washington Speakers Bureau, which represents Palin. It outlined the speaker’s requirements regarding air travel, luxury hotel accommodations, private ground travel, security, Q&A and other event details.
Some of the shredded documents were dated on and around March 16, the same the day the speaker’s contract was dated. The university officially announced the Palin event on March 25.
“This is unconscionable,” Yee said of the discarded and destroyed documents. “It’s reprehensible. These are teachers and educators. Flout the First Amendment, flout responsibility; is that what they teach in the classroom? Because that’s what they’re doing right now.”
Yee said the students’ discovery was especially contentious because the university told him last week it had no documents related to Palin’s visit.
Yee had requested information about the event because Palin’s reported $100,000 speaking fee concerned him, and he wanted to know if there were any assurances the money raised would go to scholarships and professor chairs.
“The response we got from CSU was that it was none of our business,” Yee said.
The school said it could not reveal the speaking fee because there was a confidentiality clause in the contract, and it argued that since the foundation was private, it wasn’t subject to the disclosure laws that govern public institutions.
But the foundation is housed in the university’s administration building and is the only entity authorized to accept private donations on behalf of the university, according to CSU Stanislaus.
Its work is conducted via CSU Stanislaus email accounts, telephones, computers and Web site domains, and its chair is a state employee with a six-figure salary.
This prompted Yee and Californians Aware, a group that advocates for access to information, to file a California Public Records Act request last week.
The school’s campus compliance officer shot down the request, saying no such documents existed, according to Yee. The state attorney general has now launched a broad investigation into the case, which after today’s revelations includes the potential tampering of evidence.
“We are taking this action to make sure that the money raised goes toward the intended educational purposes and not a dollar is wasted or misspent,” Attorney General Jerry Brown said in a prepared statement. “Prudent financial stewardship is crucial at a time in which universities face vastly decreased funding and increased student fees.”
Briggs and Lewis said they’re not part of any student organization and did not have an ideological agenda when they challenged the Palin event.
“We just want to hold people accountable,” Briggs said. “This is our campus, it’s California’s campus, and all Californians deserve to know what’s going on.”
Representatives of Cal State Stanislaus did not return calls seeking comment.