By: M.L. Stein
San Francisco Examiner prints verbatim account of private video
meeting between U. of California president and UC chancellors sp.
THE SAN FRANCISCO Examiner’s detailed report of a private video teleconference between University of California president Jack Pelatson and UC chancellors has touched off a political furor and an FBI investigation.
In a copyrighted story, the Examiner disclosed that at the meeting:
? Pelatson blasted the California Legislature’s rejection of the governor’s nomination of a pro-administration regent, saying the Democrats responsible should suffer “political pain and penalty.”
? He promised “golden parachute” retirement bonuses to nine top UC executives in the financially strapped university but expressed worry about an “explosive reaction” when the plan becomes public.
? The chancellors discussed grant-ing a colleague a $34,000 raise in a new position, even though he might accept the job for $15,000 less. It’s the right thing to do, they said.
The newspaper’s verbatim account, which it said came from a “confidential news source,” also depicts Pelatson as concerned about reaction to his decision to give each chancellor a year off at full salary (average cost: $189,000) when UC is freezing salaries, easing out top professors and hiking tuition.
In another exchange, according to the Examiner, Pelatson implies that UC-Berkeley chancellor Chang-Lin Tien should lead the effort to rescue the regent nomination of Lester Lee because Tien, like Lee, is a Chinese-American. Tien is reported to be cool to the idea.
The March 2 meeting was held via a video hookup between UC executives in Southern California and Pelatson and other chancellors in the San Francisco Bay area.
In a March 20 story, the Examiner quoted an unidentified “UC source” as saying “secret is a good word” for the monthly meetings Pelatson holds with chancellors of the nine UC campuses.
Reaction to the leaked information was swift.
State Sen. Quentin Kopp (I-San Francisco) recommended that Pelatson be fired for his remarks at the meeting.
State Senate President pro tem Bill Lockyer said he may form a special legislative committee to give closer scru-tiny to the workings of the UC administration. Pelatson and the chancellors displayed “institutional arrogance,” Lockyer said.
In a letter to Pelatson, veteran UC regent Frank Clark, a Los Angeles lawyer, called for his resignation, declaring that UC’s management had reached “very possibly its lowest point in the history of the university.”
San Francisco Democratic Assemblyman John Burton said he hoped to amend the state’s open meetings law to forbid UC officials from conducting secret meetings on their benefits, adding, “It’s the public’s business, and I don’t think they should be allowed to do those things in secret.”
Saying he was the victim of an “illegal bugging,” Pelatson ordered UC police to uncover the Examiner’s source and asked for an FBI investigation of the matter.
The UC head also distributed letters to legislators and thousands of UC employees, complaining that the Examiner’s stories “created a distorted image” of the conference.
In a letter to university regents, Pelatson said the questioned meeting was a regularly scheduled one in which 20 different items were discussed during six hours. Among the items, he said, were 13 new ideas for increasing university efficiency.
Pelatson also met with the UC-Berkeley Academic Senate, telling faculty representatives that “the university would be severely damaged . . . if we could not have staff meetings in a candid, off-the-record way.”
William Baker, UC’s vice president for university relations, accused the Examiner of obtaining the conference remarks illegally, a charge denied by Examiner executive editor Phil Bronstein.
In a March 30 follow-up story, which included Pelatson’s charge of distortion, the Examiner published what it said was a word-for-word transcription of some of what was said at the meeting.
The Examiner also revealed that Pelatson and Northern California chancellors conducted their end of the conference from a studio owned by East Bay developer Ron Cowan, who, the paper said, has bestowed gifts and expensive dinners on several UC officials in an attempt to attract UC projects to his industrial park complex.
The story said UCLA Chancellor Charles Young, sitting in his Los Angeles office, noticed the logo of Cowan’s Harbor Bay project on the desk where the Northern California group was sitting. “I would once again make the suggestion that the Harbor Bay sign be removed from that table,” he was reported as saying as other executives began laughing. “There’ll be an article in the paper, ‘Chancellors’ meeting held at Harbor Bay facility, indicating there was fire where there was smoke.’ ” There was more laughter as Young continued, “Which may be true ? I don’t know.”
The Associated Press reported that FBI spokesman Rick Smith said the bureau is looking into possible “interception of communication” in the UC system.
In an interview, Bronstein said he had heard that the FBI had started an investigation but he had not been contacted by the agency. Bronstein would not reveal his source of the recording, but he said the paper obtained it in a “legitimate and perfectly appropriate way. It was good reporting work. We would not print anything unless we were sure of its accuracy.”