Pennsylvania student journalist and professor rectify IRS 990 access problems at college

PENNSYLVANIA — Thanks to a school policy at a private school in Reading, a student journalist and his class experienced public records access problems first hand. Nathaniel Carey, an undergraduate student at Albright College, was denied access to the school’s Internal Revenue Service 990 tax return forms in April because the school considered the documents to be confidential.An institutions’ 990 tax forms contain financial information such as top employee salaries, contributions to the organization and specific assets.Federal law states that all non-profit institutions, such as Albright, are required to make their last three annual returns available for public inspection during regular business hours.Communications Professor Achal Mehra, who taught Carey’s class, formally requested and was denied copies of the forms from the school’s business office after Carey was unable to obtain the information for the class. Mehra called the college’s actions willful, obstructive, illegal and disturbing.”The College must meet its public access obligations under the law,” Mehra stated in a letter to Paul Gazzerro, vice president of administration and finance at the school. “The law provides penalties for an institution’s failure to meet [these] requirements.” Gazzerro could not be reached for comment on the situation.Mehra received a memo from Gazzerro the day after his formal request was made to the college and a story exposing the actions of the school was published in the local paper. The memo stated that the information was now available for free examination. “It is regrettable that the college withheld these documents for a full 14 days,” Mehra wrote in a second letter to Gazzerro. “I hope that the business officers of the college will learn from this experience.”The memo from Gazzerro stated that an individual wanting to view the documents had to make special arrangements to do so. Mehra said this was still a violation of a person’s right to information under the law.After asking for a fully legal procedure, Mehra said administrators had not yet established one.”It is my understanding they do not have an established procedure,” said Mehra in June. “I may get that answer with a new bunch of students next semester.”