Sunday, April 4, 2010

Something's Rotten in this Ham-let

I want to apologize to my loyal readers for the following piece. It’s not really funny at all. I have put on my op-ed hat for this one because I’m sick of what’s going on at my alma mater, CSU Stanislaus. Thanks for your patience. I’ll get back to the silliness soon.

If you live in the San Joaquin Valley or the greater central valley of California, then it is likely you have heard about the plan to bring former Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin to the Turlock campus of California State University, Stanislaus for a fundraising dinner/speech. Predictably, the announcement of Palin’s visit immediately sparked a veritable “firestorm of controversy.”

Palin probably has a great deal of supporters in the mostly conservative valley, and tickets are reportedly selling briskly, but students, faculty, and many alumni are disgusted that the institution would associate itself with a politician known mostly for her lack of intelligence and knowledge and her disregard for education. Protesting Palin is all well and good, but she is not really the most significant part of this hullaballoo. The hullaballoo is important because it is shedding some light on the shady dealings of CSUS President Ham Shirvani and his cronies.

Though Mrs. Palin’s appearance is part of the CSUS 50th-anniversary celebration and the event will be held on campus, the event’s sponsoring organization, the CSUS Foundation, contends that the fundraiser is not an actual University activity. The Foundation, we’re told, is not a University group, though its chair is named Ham Shirvani. And even though the gala event is labeled a fundraiser, the foundation’s president and spokesperson, Matt Swanson, has so far declined to name any purpose for the funds raised by Palin’s appearance.

The Foundation, in fact, refuses to reveal any financial information, other than the price of a ticket ($500) to the gala celebration. State Senator Leland Lee wants to know the terms of the Foundation’s contract with Palin, but the Foundation has said, “It’s none of your damn business.” The Foundation calls itself a private “auxiliary” group, or a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, which means its financial dealings are not subject to public scrutiny or regulation. Now, I know that all charitable or non-profit organizations are required to follow some disclosure rules, but the point here is that the Foundation is the “CSUS” Foundation and it operates under the direction of Ham Shirvani. So, the Foundation raises money, perhaps lots of it, ostensibly for the University, but only one University official (yes, I know there’s one faculty and one student representative on the board) controls the direction of this money. Frankly, it smells like a good, old-fashioned slush fund.

Is it possible that Shirvani only uses this money good and not evil? I suppose so, but his ham-fisted governance of the University and his mismanagement of official funds suggest that a thorough investigation of the Foundation’s finances would show that the Foundation brings little actual benefit to students and faculty. The Foundation, for instance, has not prevented the cancelation of much-needed general education classes, such as Freshman Composition, and the Foundation certainly won’t pledge any of the Palin proceeds toward instructional costs.

Unfortunately, there won’t be any pressure from the local press for any investigation into the Shirvani slush fund because the Modesto Bee has its editorial head thrust into a very dark place. In a recent editorial, the Bee cast the Palin debate in terms of free speech and academic freedom—which was misleading and just plain bogus. Mrs. Palin, we are discovering, is a businessperson, and her appearance is simply a business deal. Senator Yee would like the terms of the deal to be more transparent. And while I applaud his efforts, the transparence needs to be much broader than Sarah Palin’s compensation. Ham Shirvani now has three spokespeople, if you don’t the Bee’s editors: two who are on the CSUS payroll and Matt Swanson of the Foundation. Two of these spokespeople should quit, and the other one should tell students, faculty, alumni, and the community the truth.

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