Anonymous donations raise transparency concerns

While some think new legislation will encourage more donations to UVM, some suspect that the University is withholding information from the public.UVM requested that the Vermont Senate clarify an amendment to a public statute, which would allow private donors to remain anonymous, Karen Maher, vice president of Federal, State and Community Relations at UVM, said.The bill would adjust the Vermont Public Records Act so that private donors could give gifts to UVM without revealing their identity, according to a statement from the University.However, some fear that the new policy could cause controversy.”Having  ‘open’ information hasn’t been a problem in the past, so why does it need to change?” senior Letizia Figg said.She said that the new amendment makes her feel that the University is hiding something by creating this policy option.”I think it would be better to keep it the way it is and not create a scandal out of it all,” she said.Others, however, support the amendment.The vast majority of donors choose to openly identify themselves when making gifts, but some — out of modesty, a need for privacy, worries about family safety — choose to remain anonymous, according to an online statement from UVM Development and Alumni Relations. “It is perfectly reasonable for them to expect that their privacy rights will be respected,” it stated. The University is not hiding money, but they want to be able to ethically say that they can grant anonymity, UVM State Relations Officer Clarence Davis said.Also, most people who donate to any institution want their names out there for people to see, Davis said.”Donors want people to know that they’ve donated to ‘X’ charity,” he said.The privacy of individual donor records is also important to strengthening development efforts, Maher said.Development efforts are projects that help raise money for the University and coordinate networking between students, alumni and parents, Kathleen A. Kelleher, interim Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations, said.”UVM and the other public post-secondary institutions are in need to enhance development work in an effort to increase the amount of funds raised from private sources to keep the cost of higher education as manageable as possible,” Maher said.Nevertheless, some still raised concerns about transparency.Although UVM is encouraging the pending legislation, some organizations like the Vermont Press Association (VPA) characterize the amendment as an attempt to hide the source of the money, Davis said.An open and transparent system is extremely important, Executive Director of the VPA Michael Donoghue said.”As a state institution, I think that UVM, state colleges and VSAC should be held to this kind of standard,” he said.Because our country was founded on the simplicity of open government and democracy, UVM as a public institution should report to its taxpayers, Donoghue said.”They’re just asking for one more exemption in the public records law,” he said.Although the names of the donors would remain anonymous, the University would continue to make public the amounts and uses of the gifts, Davis said. The institution’s annual financial statements will also continue to be made available, according to UVM’s online statement.  Last week, the legislation was “ordered to lie,” which means there will be no action unless something extraordinary happens, Davis said. “The bill is essentially in limbo unless someone wants to bring it back,” he said.Despite opinion battles between colleges, organizations and students, the legislation has been put on the back burner for now, Davis said.”The University will continue to manage records as it does now because there has been no change in law,” Maher said.