Opinion: Why did FAU cite public record law to deny me information I can find elsewhere?

While attempting to learn more about the donations Carole and Barry Kaye made to FAU, I was unable to due to public record law. Meanwhile, I was able to find that information anyway, because of public record law.


Illustration by Michelle Rodriguez Gonzalez.

Marcy Wilder, Web Editor

I wanted to respect Carole and Barry Kaye’s memory by reporting their contributions to FAU. The original story’s purpose was to detail all of the good their donations did, but instead, I’m stuck at a wall of legal jargon that’s hard to understand and more questions that I won’t be able to answer.

For a little background, the Kayes were big FAU donors whose business was mainly in life insurance. Barry wrote many books about life insurance and Carole created the largest contemporary miniature museum to date. They died from COVID-19 in April. The areas on campus where their names can be found include:

  • Carole and Barry Kaye ’05 Great Hall in the Marleen and Harold Forkas Alumni Center
  • Carole and Barry Kaye Endowed Fund in Integrative Arts Education and Outreach
  • Carole and Barry Kaye Performing Arts Auditorium
  • Barry Kaye Hall
  • Barry Kaye Program of Risk Management and Insurance

It was going to be a simple process of acquiring the donation schedule, along with any terms and conditions, and reporting how their money was used to better FAU. Their names are some of the first you remember when you enter FAU as a freshman, as almost every significant event at FAU happens at the Carole and Barry Kaye Performing Arts Auditorium. But my request for their donation schedule was denied under Florida Statutes Section 1004.28(5) for K-20 education.

I contacted the First Amendment Foundation and Pamela C. Marsh, the president, helped me learn what FAU could be referring to by using that section. She told me that the donation schedule I requested could have been redacted, but that I should have still been able to get the amount. Also, the law states, in short, that if the donors donated anonymously, their identity is protected. However, Marsh pointed out, “It sounds to me like their gift was announced at some point, or you wouldn’t know about it.”

I also doubt that the Kayes donated anonymously because their names are on at least three buildings, and there’s a program named after Barry in FAU’s College of Business.

When I contacted Howard Kaye Insurance Agency, LLC. to talk to Howard Kaye (Carole and Barry’s son) about his parents’ relationship with FAU and if he knew how much he donated, he declined to comment.

Another section of the law is that direct-support organizations (organizations made to only raise money for other organizations) for public schools are exempt from releasing donation records. Since the FAU Foundation is technically a direct-support foundation, that is why I wasn’t able to receive those records. When I later called Public Records Specialist Rachelle Hollingsworth about my records requests being exempt, she read this part of the law out loud to me and affirmed that any information regarding donors was exempt.

Doing more research, I found the tax filings from the Carole and Barry Kaye foundation from 2006 to 2018 (not including 2017), on the NonProfit Explorer on ProPublica.org. I was able to find the tax filings from 2017 on Guidestar.org, but there weren’t any donations made to FAU that fiscal year (2016). In the table below, you can see the year the filings were made (making the actual donation done the previous year), where, the purpose, and how much.

[table id=8 /]

The majority of reported information that is available about the Kayes’ donations indicates that in 2009 the Kayes rescinded a $16 million donation pledge to FAU. They instead donated $5 million because of issues regarding the 2008 recession, TheNonProfitTimes reported in 2009. Due to the donation being decreased, FAU decided to no longer have the College of Business named after the Kayes. However, when the $16 million donation pledge was announced in 2007, the Kayes’s names would have already been found on the FAU campus, which was also because of donations on their part.

According to the Sun Sentinel, FAU officials would not answer questions about Barry Kaye and his donations even back in 2006, but that they had donated $3 million since 2005 (at the time of publishing that article) according to tax returns from the Carole and Barry Kaye Foundation.

But other publications have reported that the pre-2006 donations figures range from $3 million to $3.9 million. A previous UP article, written in 2006, states that the donations made to FAU added up to a total of $5.9 million.

No matter how much money the Kayes donated before they reduced their 2009 donation from $16 million to $5 million, they had already given at least $3,317,501, according to the tax filings, to FAU. This leaves me wondering why did the university cite a public record exemption when the Kayes’ names can be found on buildings at FAU and if the tax filings made by the foundation can be found online?

In an email, I asked FAU Media Relations, who I made the original public records request to, why, in plain English, the documents I was seeking were exempt according to F.S. Section 1004.28(5). One week and one follow-up email later, I got this response from Hollingsworth: “As previously noted, pursuant to Section 1004.28(5)(b), Florida Statutes, records of university direct-support organizations, including without limitation donation records, are confidential and exempt from the public records provisions of Section 119.07(1) other than as specifically noted in the statute.” This was the law that was read out loud in completion to me in the phone call made later.

In the 2009 Sun Sentinel article I referenced earlier, FAU Foundation Executive Committee Chairman David Gury was quoted to have said, “Universities around the country are facing issues with pledges,” not explicitly referencing the Kayes’ donations. But he did reference Kaye in saying, “Barry Kaye has been a good friend to the university.”

Barry and Carole Kaye have done so much good as FAU donors, and all I originally set out to do was honor them. Whether it’s because of FAU or the state, it’s a shame that law makes it hard to get information about donations made to a public university from the said public university, especially after the donor’s death.

Marcy Wilder is the web editor for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet her @MarcyJWilder.