IT IS disconcerting, to say the least, that the University of California has flunked a transparency test from a major open-government group. At the same time, we are pleased to see that out local Cal State schools passed the same test with flying colors.
California Aware, a respected, nonprofit, public-access watchdog group, gave the 10-campus UC system a failing grade when it came to responding to the group's request for records. It is important to mention that UC Berkeley's grade of C was highest in the system.
While the California State University system attained an overall B rating from the group, we are pleased to note that the four Cal State schools in the Bay Area -- Cal State East Bay, San Francisco State, San Jose State and Sonoma State -- all received grades of A-plus.
That is outstanding. All four schools should be commended for their diligence and devotion to transparency. We hope that they will keep up the good work.
Frankly, the Cal State system as a whole did well. To be sure, there is room for some improvement, but a B for an entire 24-campus system is not a bad grade.
However, the UC system is another matter. There obviously is room for dramatic improvement in all of the schools. When the top performing school gets a C, you know that something is woefully wrong and that the problems are systemic.
It should be made clear that the information sought by the advocacy group was not esoteric or arcane. It was requests for contracts, ethics forms and spending reports. In fact, a spokesman for the CSU system even referred to the requests as "fairly standardized."
A spokesman for the UC system argues that the system does a better job of providing access than the advocacy group's audit indicates. UC also disputed some of the audit's findings.
That dispute, however, centers over whether documents were e-mailed to the group long after the legal deadline for producing them. That is hardly a compelling argument for the system's transparency.
Whether it was not providing local annual statements of economic interests by top officials, or missing the prescribed 10-day deadline to respond, or releasing the requested information within the required 30 days, the UC system as a whole did a lousy job.
We are willing to think the best of the UC system and accept that this performance is merely a manifestation of bureaucratic inertia and not some nefarious plan to deprive taxpayers access to records to which they are entitled.
The good news is that it is not a difficult problem to fix. The University of California can do so by recommitting itself to open and transparent operations. If this is made a priority and some training is provided, the problem could be a handled rather easily.
If officials from the UC system need some help and guidance in doing so, it isn't like they need to reinvent the wheel. All that would be required is for these officials to swallow some pride and go ask the Bay Area Cal State schools just exactly how they got so good.
Who knows? Maybe California Aware and those four schools could consider the radical idea of partnering in some way to help educate the rest of the institutions.