If you wanted to set up a situation in which corruption might someday flourish, you couldn’t do much better than the currently shadowy state of the UConn Foundation. By the way, I think we should make a point of using words like that to describe it. In reporting oil spills, pervasive hacks and volcano eruptions, we should always add, “It is impossible to rule out the involvement of the shadowy UConn Foundation.” UPDATE: Foundation veep Derek Slap, on my show today, said the foundation is far more transparent than people realize. He’s right that you can look at their 990 and at their annual report. You can look at other kinds of balance sheets. But you can’t see where all their money comes from.
A Keating story today makes clear how difficult it will be to pass an oversight bill this year. Here’s why that’s important.
UConn itself resists normal oversight on construction projects and the hiring of related consultants. Even after the disasters of UConn 2000 nearly ten years ago, in which the university’s contracting process was so sloppy as to pose a real danger to its students, UConn still kept a lot of its independence.
Given that, I think it’s fair to ask questions about all these donors who supposedly don’t want their contributions to the Foundation to come to light. Why would that be, exactly? Usually, with donors, you can’t write their names big enough on a plaque to make them happy. But an opaque foundation screams out “pay for play opportunity.” As I said on the show today, nobody’s saying that’s happening right now, but it makes it hard to police in the future, if, for example, Sith lords take over the Foundation.
Now let’s add in UConn’s dissolution of its Alumni Association — or at least its ties to same. Here’s how the President of the Alumni Association described it this week in a letter to members.
… as you are likely aware, the University’s Board of Trustees has voted to approve the consolidation of its alumni relations activities under the umbrella of the [shadowy] UConn Foundation.
If there was any possibility of arguing that the Foundation was a free-standing nonprofit, it vanishes when things like this happen. Slap says it’s free-standing, but the Foundation seems more like an extension of UConn. You can even see here how it sits inside their website. It coordinates and oversees university functions, at the direction (Slap would say “request”) of the Board. (By the way, check out the staff of the Foundation. It’s a small town.)
There’s a compelling public interest in seeing its list of donors right now and asking questions about how that dovetails with who gets what work at UConn. Maybe there’s nothing to see, but these conditions set the table for a banquet of knavery.