Transparent GMU Reacts to New Donor Agreements Bills

Two new House Bills call for university donor relations to be made public


Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed bills HB 510 and HB 1529 on March 2 and April 6, respectively, both of which aim to increase accountability between universities and students. 

These bills have been strategically lobbied for over six years by Transparent GMU students, faculty and members of the community, as Mason has become known for its controversial donations from private interests. 

The bills were introduced by Delegate David Bulova, a representative of District 37 — which contains Mason’s Fairfax campus. 

HB 1529 requires universities to retain copies of donor agreements that can be accessible for public view under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). HB 510 enforces that the exclusion in FOIA does not apply to protecting anonymity of donor names when there are academic strings attached.

“Transparent GMU was amazed and proud that the General Assembly passed beneficial legislation to make donations to public universities more transparent,” said Sara Deriso, a member of Transparent GMU.

When asked if these bills would have a strong influence on donor relations to the university, Deriso commented, The only things that would change for organizations that donate to universities is if their donation has stipulations that direct academic decision-making, then individual[s] or organizations can not be anonymous.”

She continued, “It is the authority of faculty and departments to direct academic decision-making, not private donors.”

Mason has received millions from donors such as the Charles Koch Foundation. Mason often publicly acknowledges these donations by renaming buildings. 

However, the extent of Mason’s decisions — especially those related to academic policies and hiring — remain largely undisclosed.

Transparent GMU also had a Virginia Supreme Court case heard during September 2019. The ruling concluded that the GMU Foundation is exempt from the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. 

In the future, Transparent GMU is looking to push HB 1157, currently endorsed by Delegate Kathy Tran. This bill would require the Board of Visitors to have a student present to vote on the board. This student would go through a process of election by their peers and be appointed by the governor of Virginia.