Universities do not want to be covered under Right-to-Know Law
The attorneys said during a four-hour hearing on proposed changes to the state's open-records law that the law should not apply to them as it does to the 14 schools in the State System of Higher Education.
The Senate State Government Committee appeared divided as it considers a bill to change the version of the law passed in 2008.
Chairman Lloyd Smucker (R., Lancaster) said Sandusky's 2011 arrest and subsequent conviction was a "game-changer" in several areas of law and may result in changes regarding open records as well.
Together they receive hundreds of millions of dollars in state funding annually. The 2008 revisions to the Right-to-Know Law largely excluded the schools but imposed a requirement that they disclose certain financial information annually, including some of their largest salaries.
The attorneys said other state and federal laws require the schools to disclose information including graduation rates and campus crime statistics.
Valerie Harrison, general counsel at Lincoln, said greater public disclosure would amount to an unfunded mandate, while disclosure of all staff salaries could create animosity.
Stephen Dunham, Penn State's top lawyer, said putting it fully under the Right-to-Know Law would damage the school's decision-making systems, which reflect its status as more private and autonomous than similar large public universities in other states.
Sen. Andy Dinniman (D., Chester), a history professor at West Chester University, said many people feel that Penn State failed in its handling of the Sandusky matter, and its Right-to-Know Law status may have contributed.
Former Penn State administrators are awaiting trial in an alleged criminal cover-up of the Sandusky scandal, and prosecutors have cited e-mails as evidence. E-mails can be subject to the open records law, although agencies may withhold them under certain exceptions, including the existence of an investigation.
The committee hearing also addressed whether open records requests from inmates should be restricted or banned. Inmate request restrictions are part of the legislation, proposed in April by Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware).