Los Angeles News

UCLA officials' travel expenses scrutinized

Thursday, August 01, 2013

The travel expenses of some UCLA administrators are coming under increased scrutiny. ABC7's investigative journalism partner, The Center Ffor Investigative Reporting, took a close look at who is traveling, what they're spending, and whether it's a good use of public funds.

On the University of California-Los Angeles campus in Westwood, it's easy to find students frustrated with the rising cost of college.

That's because during the past five years, undergraduates at UCLA have seen a 70-percent increase in tuition and fees.

An analysis of school records by the Center for Investigative Reporting appears to show a pattern of lavish spending on travel and entertainment at the public university, including first-class flights and stays at luxury resorts.

The top-three spenders are the dean of the Anderson School of Management, the chancellor, and the dean of the School of Theater, Film and Television.

According to records obtained by the Center for Investigative Reporting, the academic dean of the Anderson School of Management, Judy Olian, spent $647,000 on plane tickets, meals, car service and other expenses over a five-year period. That's six times more than her counterpart at UC Berkeley.

A big part of that comes by way of nearly $300,000 in first-class or business-class plane tickets on international trips, which she is allowed to purchase due to an undisclosed medical condition.

But other expenditures include chauffeured Town Cars and stays at a Four Seasons resort.

An analysis of public records shows that Olian spent an average of $129,000 annually on travel and entertainment from 2008 through 2012. The dean of UCLA's School of Medicine spent an average of $2,000 annually.

And it doesn't end with Olian. In a three-year period Teri Schwartz, the dean of the School of Theater, Film and Television averaged $70,000 a year in travel and entertainment expenses. Records show UCLA paid $45,000 to book or reimburse business- and first-class flights for Schwartz. The 63-year-old has a medical note that entitles her to take the more expensive flights and use a car service.

And the university chancellor, Gene Block, averaged $73,000 a year in travel and entertainment.

"No one in their right mind can defend that kind of exorbitant funding," said state Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco).

Yee has been a frequent critic of UC's spending habits. He says there needs to be more oversight when it comes to travel budgets.

"I think that what happens often times is that UC, because they think that they are above it all, become a little bit arrogant, removed from what's going on in the real world, living in their ivory tower, they lose touch," said Yee.

But the university maintains the spending is justified. In a written statement, a university spokesman said that unforeseen circumstances and practical considerations sometimes warrant exceptions to travel policy.

UCLA Spokesman Phil Hampton goes on to say: "While today's times demand financial prudence, UCLA must make investments in travel and entertainment-related activities to continue its trajectory as one of the world's top research universities."

And officials at the Anderson School of Management say that $80,000 of Olian's expenses have or will be reimbursed by outside organizations.

Still, Yee is skeptical.

"You don't have to just live high on the hog like everyone else just so you can make money and get money for the benefit of students," said Yee.

Tod Tamberg from the UCLA Office of Media Relations released a statement in response to the CIR article Thursday:

"Today an article by the Center for Investigative Reporting called into question the travel expenses of some campus leaders. Although UCLA made every effort to convey its side of the story to the reporter, some important points were omitted from the article.

"Although the article criticizes UCLA for spending $2 million in travel over a four-year period from 2008 to 2012, it neglects to point out that UCLA generated more than $2 billion in gifts during that same period and received nearly $1 billion annually in research funding. This is due in large part to travel by our campus leaders, which allows them to cultivate relationships and engage colleagues, donors and alumni around the globe to enhance research opportunities, recruit faculty and raise money. At a top-flight university with 17 deans and executive leadership managing partnerships and interests all across the world, $2 million in travel spending over a four-year period equates to less than $28,000 each year for each of those campus leaders.

"Travel by UCLA leadership was consistent with that of deans at most of our peer institutions, though UCLA has seen a more significant return on its investment than many of those other universities. In fact, UCLA's stature in respected global university rankings rose even as state support declined dramatically.

"UCLA routinely ranks among the top universities nationally in higher-education fundraising. In its 2011 survey of contributions to the nation's colleges and universities, the Council for Aid to Education ranked UCLA No. 1 for fundraising among public universities and eighth overall.

"For example, the dean of the UCLA Anderson School of Management managed to raise $118 million in the time period CIR scrutinized -- another fact we shared with CIR reporters that they chose to leave out of the article. While much is made of the UCLA Anderson dean's travel expenses, the article never made clear that such costs represent less than 0.2 percent of the funds she raised, and there was barely a mention of the fact that no taxpayer funds are used for travel or entertainment at UCLA Anderson.

"As a public university, UCLA has stringent travel policies that allow for certain accommodations, such as business-class travel, with documentation from licensed physicians. This pertains to anyone with a medical directive.

"It is also unfortunate that the article focuses exclusively on UCLA without providing suitable context or appropriate comparisons. CIR only mentioned the travel expenses of the dean at UC Berkeley's business school. The article neglects to point out, however, that UCLA Anderson competes with the leading business schools in the world, most of which are private, for faculty and students. No other comparisons were mentioned for UCLA as a whole or for any of its other programs.

"The university's travel policy encourages all employees to seek reasonably priced accommodations, meals and transportation whenever practically possible. While today's times demand financial prudence, UCLA must make investments in travel and related activities in order to sustain and further elevate the university's reputation as one of the world's top research institutions."

(Copyright ©2014 KABC-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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