WUFT TV/FM by Grace Kenny
April 27, 2018
The University of Tennessee spent $270,000 on hotels, meals and transportation for its football team during home games in 2017. The University of Kentucky spent more than $334,183.
How much did the University of Florida spend?
It’s a secret.
Florida is one of the few states that exempts university groups like UF’s athletic organization from public records laws. This protection is said to ensure the privacy of the organizations, but some call it an overbroad restriction that gives more power to the already powerful university system.
UF’s athletic program, the University Athletic Association, is a direct-support organization. The classification identifies the group as a private, incorporated business and separates it from the university.
UAA is one of UF’s 18 direct-support organizations. Others include University of Florida Foundation, Gator Boosters and University of Florida Alumni Association.
The status of direct-support organizations is a gray area in most states. They’re private businesses separate from universities, but they still enjoy benefits from schools like logos and property, making their relationship to public records laws unclear.
In Florida, the right of access to these groups is black and white: They are exempt.
Director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information Frank LoMonte said he thinks the entire structure of direct-support organizations is questionable and possibly dangerous.
Universities act as state agencies, he said, which force their public records to be accessible. LoMonte said there’s no justification for allowing direct-support organizations, which are core functions of these state agencies, to become off-limits to the public because of a change in paperwork.
“You shouldn’t be able to incorporate your way out of accountability and the public records act,” he said.
University organizations becoming incorporated is nothing new. The oldest direct-support organization is Florida State University’s Alumni Association, which started in 1909.
A Florida statute dating back to 1975 exempts university direct-support organizations from disclosing all their public records except for an annual auditor’s report.
But because some direct-support organizations in Florida, like the UAA, are central to the universities’ functions, they act partly as university groups and partly as private businesses.
“I think they need to become completely separate and stop using university resources,” LoMonte said, “or they need to embrace that they are a government agency, and that includes the open-records law.”