Could San Diego State University, a bastion of the local business establishment that has carefully guarded its political and financial perogatives, be in for a housecleaning, courtesy of donations from conservative billionaire Charles Koch's foundation to Florida's Poynter Institute?
So portends a September 17 news release by the educational non-profit announcing that SDSU's Daily Aztec and eight other student media organizations are this year's beneficiaries of its College Media Project
"During a time of increasingly limited resources for student media organizations, Poynter will help more student journalists hold their institutions accountable, increase civil dialogue on campus and improve watchdog reporting skills," says the announcement, adding that the nation's college scribes say they are desperate for assistance.
"Some shared stories of intimidation by administrators and even their own peers. Others noted ongoing Title IX investigations and their eagerness to learn more about how to hold their institutions accountable for transparency in job searches and complaints about employees."
Poynter senior vice president Kelly McBride added that the students deserved aid because “they are a check on the power of the administration."
SDSU insiders note that there is no dearth of rocks to be turned over, including follow-ups to a multitude of malfeasance reports issued by California's state auditor and the California State University system.
Among other alleged faults in recent years, SDSU has been dinged for asbestos and potentially hazardous eyewash stations in its student labs and hit for financial favoritism to an unnamed athletic department staffer, along with a bevy of other negative findings.
"A company owned by a campus faculty member improperly included the university name in its name, and the company obtained a deeply discounted facility rental rate from [Associated Students], which appeared to be a conflict of interest,” noted a 2016 CSU audit.
Regarding the school’s fast-and-loose fundraising, auditors said, "The campus had not developed a written fund‐raising policy or established a written delegation of authority for fund‐raising events; fund‐raising events were not always reviewed and approved by a delegated authority prior to the events; and revenues for certain fund‐raising events were incorrectly reported on IRS Form 990."
In September of last year, SDSU's preventative maintenance and a yet-to-be-adopted climate action plan were called out by CSU auditors.
Replied SDSU officials: "The university accepts the risk inherent in not maintaining all assets at the scheduled intervals provided in the [preventative maintenance] program given the finite resources available at this time. We will continue to advocate for additional funding and staffing to expedite this process.”
Fleeing faculty remains a story to be pursued. As reported here in February of last year, professor Anne Donadey of SDSU’s Diversity Equity and Outreach Committee told the faculty senate "The decrease in faculty numbers is cause for concern, as is the fact that percentages of female and underrepresented faculty members have not increased in spite of retirements and regular hiring since 2014-15.”
The prior tenure of SDSU's newly-installed president Adela de la Torre as an administrator at UC Davis, where she declined to provide emails to a law firm hired by the state to investigate her boss and close friend, ex-Davis chancellor Linda Katehi, has also gotten short shrift from the locals.
Then there is the case of Lilac Hills Ranch, the topic of a November 2016 investigative report by SDSU-run KPBS, highlighting what was alleged to be "dark money" political funding against the project without disclosing that developer Randy Goodson and wife were donors to SDSU's posh Parma Payne Goodall alumni center.
Regarding the Charles Koch Foundation's role in the journalism program, Poynter's McBride explains on the group's website, "We pick the schools. We set the curriculum. We hire the faculty. We occasionally update our contacts at the Koch Foundation about our progress. I can personally attest that over the last year our contacts at the Koch Foundation gave us complete independence to run the program the way we saw fit."
Added McBride: "With Koch money we helped the student journalists at Howard University’s The Hilltop newspaper cover the longest student occupation in the college’s history, hold their own university officials accountable and host bl(activism), a conference on black activism.