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Ms. Powers maintained that the university’s salary contracts and separation agreements include clauses that don’t permit their release, and that including Penn State in the open-records law won’t “fix these perceived problems.”

However, Section 1701 of the open-records law, for instance, requires that all state agency contracts be made public. Those for more than $5,000 must be put online. That section of the law doesn’t contain exceptions for confidentiality clauses.

When Pennsylvania’s open-records law was rewritten in 2007, Mr. Spanier lobbied for the university’s exemption. He was ousted last month by Penn State’s board of trustees in connection with the Sandusky scandal.

Ms. Mutchler, a Penn State graduate who wrote for the school’s newspaper, called Mr. Spanier’s involvement unusual.

“It’s a pretty low-level law for a university president to come and testify on,” she said.

In four pages of testimony, Mr. Spanier all but predicted Penn State’s collapse if it weren’t exempted. His worries included a “chilling effect” on donors, making contract details public, eroding privacy rights and a “constant detriment to employee morale” if salaries were available.

“All in all, we anticipate that the proposed right-to-know legislation would result in a multimillion-dollar hit for Penn State,” Mr. Spanier said on Aug. 7, 2007. “Subjecting Penn State to right to know does far more than feed the prurient interests of newspaper editors who are looking for a headline about how much coach [Joe] Paterno makes.”

Ms. Powers echoed Mr. Spanier’s concerns about compromising the university’s contracts, research, donors and bottom line if subject to the law. She pointed to “thousands of pages” of budget data that the university makes available online.

“But Penn State is not a state agency,” Ms. Powers wrote.

Still, most Penn State employees are part of Pennsylvania’s state employees retirement system plan, and Mr. Spanier touted the university’s history as the country’s second land-grant school when he campaigned against cuts to state funding over the summer.

“A lot of universities will go to great lengths to protect their brand,” Ms. Mutchler said. “You could have the strongest right-to-know law in the nation and it wouldn’t have prevented what happened. But it could’ve tipped people off earlier and provided a reverse road map for what happened and who knew what, when.”