California Sen. Leland Yee, who represents District 8 (encompassing about half of San Francisco and most of San Mateo County), has proposed several bills seeking transparency in the Cal State University and limiting executive salaries. The first Chinese-American elected to the State Senate, Yee has fought cuts to Californiaâ€™s education and social services. He has successfully passed more than 100 pieces of legislation, including laws protecting student speech, restoring money to domestic violence shelters, protecting the environment and demanding accountability from the CSU and University of California.
Daily Titan: What does Senate Bill 330 aim to accomplish?
Leland Yee: Itâ€™s a very conformed bill to provide transparency to whatâ€™s going on in the UCs and CSUs of the state of California. The reality is that more and more of the official responsibility of the CSUs are being shifted over to these foundations, I believe for the sole purpose of skirting the California Public Records Act (CPRA), skirting any effort to scrutinize and hold accountable some of the activities of the CSU because any activity within the CSU is subject to the CPRA.
However, if you move those activities over to a related foundation then it is not subject to the CPRA, because these foundations claim they are part of a nonprofit.
Probably the best example is whatâ€™s going on is the Stanislaus … Thatâ€™s sort of the clearest example of where if the activity that the foundation was under the auspices of the university, then they would have to disclose under the CPRA, but because itâ€™s in the foundation they donâ€™t have to disclose.
What my bill will do would require that the foundations are now also subject to CPRA, so that the university can no longer hide any of their activity so that the general public will understand exactly whatâ€™s going on in the university and the foundations on behalf of the students and people of California.
DT: Tell me about SB 86, which was meant to place a cap on executive salary raises, but was vetoed by Gov. Schwarzenegger.
Yee: What that bill was intended to do was, in tough economic times, top administrators would not be getting any raises.
Weâ€™re asking for cut-backs in salaries and benefits from other employees, weâ€™re raising student fees.
It seems rather outrageous that high administrators are still getting raises when everyone else is tightening their belts.
What 86 was going to do was to then say, â€œIn these tough economic times, you should not be raising the salaries of the top executives.â€
DT: The chancellor of the CSU system has a base salary of $421,500 a year. What are your thoughts on that?
Yee: Itâ€™s rather, I think, outrageous that you have individuals in the CSU system that are making more than the president of the United States.
You would think that the president of the United States earns his keep because heâ€™s dealing with all of the big problems of not only the United States, but of this world.
To suggest that somehow the chancellor of a university should be making more than the president, I think itâ€™s just rather out of proportion.
I think, also, it should be a little embarrassing to the chancellor when everybody else is reducing their salary and then suffering from increases in student fees that youâ€™re not only getting increases, but that your wages are so out of proportion with everybody else.
And, so, itâ€™s rather embarrassing, but I guess these chancellors donâ€™t get embarrassed too easily.
DT: So what inspired you to propose these bills?
Yee: I come from a generation in the â€™60s who really believe that working in government is not about getting rich.
Working in government is about being people and I strongly feel that if government does not do everything it can to help young people get the very, very best education, then we will not prepare our society for the years to come.
If I donâ€™t give you the very best education and in an affordable way so that you can graduate in a timely manner, then who are going to be the leaders of the future?
You guys are going to be future leaders of our society. You guys are going to be university presidents.
You guys are going to be senators. Youâ€™ll be a governor. And so, itâ€™s extremely important then that I do everything I can to help you be prepared to take those positions.
Whatever I can do to help you toward that goal, Iâ€™m there, and part of it is, in fact, to provide an affordable, higher education â€“ a competent one, an excellent one â€“ and the only way that I can do that is to make sure that the university has resources in order to do that and not siphon it away for higher compensation in terms of salary and benefits for these top administrators.
DT: You went to San Francisco State, right?
Yee: I got my masterâ€™s at San Francisco State in child psychology, developmental psychology, and so I feel very strongly about the CSU.
I want it to prosper, I want it to provide students with the very best of education. I got it then, everyone else should get it too.
DT: So, what other changes would you like to see for California?
Yee: What Iâ€™m hoping to see now is that weâ€™ve got to get these foundations brought under the public records act.
Itâ€™s really important that we all understand exactly whatâ€™s going on in our universities, how theyâ€™re operating, whoâ€™s paying for what, how much does it cost, so that we fully understand this issue of higher education and know how resources are being expended.
Our universities are not private country clubs where people make a lot of money and they get all kinds of benefits for their own enjoyment.
This is really about preparing the next generation of leaders and we need to spend as much of (those) resources for that rather than to enrich these top administrators.
DT: You’ve championed several bills for college media. Tell me about them.
Yee: I think one of the bedrock foundations of our country is the First Amendment. That First Amendment allows us to be able to speak our minds, be able to write what we think is appropriate and that nobody should be in the position to tell you what you can write and what you cannot write.
Our democracy is predicated on that freedom of speech and the freedom of speech affords you the ability to then challenge what’s going on in government and keep all of us honest and to keep us all at this level playing field. And so, what I started to hear about administrators telling students that “Well, before you publish anything we have to check it first.”
I just couldn’t believe that. I mean, can you imagine all of the newspapers of this country, that before they can print those newspapers they have to check with government officials, they have to check with the CEO of the company that owns the newspaper?
It would be horrendous, because then these newspapers don’t really represent the truth, it only represents the viewpoint of those individuals that are in control. And so when I heard about that, we then drafted a bill that basically said that for college newspapers, administrators could not exercise prior-restraint. They could not say to you that before you print the newspaper, we have control over what you have written and we have to approve of it first. So that was one bill.
The other bill had to do with when we realized that we were able to protect the students’ ability to write what they think is right, then administrators started to go after the student advisers, tell them that “Well, you didn’t educate these students too well. They’re writing things that are embarrassing, they’re writing things that are critical to the administration.”
Well, the job of the adviser is not to tell the students what to write, but to guide them in terms of how to best present the story that you have. And, so, when there were efforts to try to penalize and retaliate against those professors and those teachers, advisers, in terms of how they were educating their students, I said we can’t allow this to happen.
So, we drafted a bill that protected teachers and professors, advisers to student newspapers, and said that they cannot be retaliated against.