Des Moines Register 10-17-06 Regent questions travel costs State university officials spent $55,000 last year, an auditor says. By ERIN JORDAN REGISTER IOWA CITY BUREAU An Iowa Board of Regents auditor is reviewing spending in the presidents' offices at Iowa's public universities after spending scandals have rocked other universities as close as Nebraska. Travel expenses are among costs being scrutinized at the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa as part of the audit requested by Regent Teresa Wahlert. "People are interested in and have a right to ask questions to make sure all the controls are in place," Wahlert said. The presidents, provosts and vice presidents for finance at Iowa's three public universities spent more than $55,000 on out-of-state travel in the year that ended June 30 and nearly $142,000 in the last three fiscal years, according to public records obtained by The Des Moines Register. While the out-of-state travel totals don't raise eyebrows with legislators or students, some people questioned individual expenses, such as high-priced hotel rooms or a weeklong leadership course that cost more than $5,800. "I don't think we should have our public servants staying at $400-a-night hotels," said Sen. Paul McKinley, R-Chariton, co-chairman of the Education Committee. "I've stayed in hotels all over the world, and I don't think I've ever stayed in a hotel that expensive." Out-of-state travel is crucial for universities increasingly trying to lure nonresident students and obtain grants and donations from around the world, leaders said. "You have to visit donors and alumni where they are, and many of the most generous benefactors and alumni don't live in Iowa," Geoffroy said. Administrative travel may be worth the cost, student leaders said. "It is a lot of money, especially when we're feeling hard times," ISU student government President Emily Jensen said. "But the conversations the presidents and provosts are having are shaping Iowa State." Spending by university leaders is a hot topic, especially as student tuition and fees become a larger share of general education funding at Iowa's public universities. Students at ISU, U of I and UNI are paying an additional $200 surcharge this year to pay for higher energy costs and faculty salaries. It is difficult to compare travel costs with other states' because universities track expenses differently, but recent spending scandals have caused departures of university officials elsewhere. Jim Buck, vice president for administration at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, retired earlier this year after taking heat over spending more than $100,000 in four years on things like university-related travel, satellite radio and a country club membership, the Omaha World-Herald reported. In 2005, the president of American University in Washington, D.C., resigned and the president of Quincy College in Massachusetts was fired amid controversies about travel costs. The Register's review of out-of-state travel showed the presidents, provosts and vice presidents for finance, which included 10 administrators, traveled out of state 152 times in the three years that ended June 30. Trips include a bowl party in Houston, congress-ional visits to Washington, D.C., fundraising trips to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Boston, and conferences in Atlanta, Phoenix and Philadelphia. There were also trips abroad, to Mexico, Egypt, South Korea, Indonesia, Russia, China and British Columbia. Former U of I President David Skorton spent the most, with $30,000 in the last three fiscal years. Geoffroy took more trips than any other leader, with 30 in the last three years, including 13 to Washington, D.C. The majority of out-of-state travel was paid for with the universities' general education funds, which include tuition and state appropriations. Restricted funds were used on some trips, as was money from the athletic departments and auxiliary units, such as U of I Health Care. Travel totals do not, in most cases, include costs paid by the universities' foundations, which often pay for part of a trip jointly used for fundraising and other university business. "I didn't see anything that jumped out at me too hard," Deputy State Auditor Andy Nielsen said after reviewing the travel records. He noted occasional pricey hotel rooms and flights, but said it's hard to judge without knowing specific circumstances of each trip. The presidents, provosts and vice presidents for finance at the U of I and ISU were reimbursed more than 40 times in the last three fiscal years for hotel rooms that cost more than $250 a night. About half of these trips were for conferences. UNI administrators were reimbursed four times in three years for daily expenses, which include lodging, meals and miscellaneous, of more than $300 per day. The universities each have travel policies that require employees to fly business class, stay in affordable hotels, limit spending on meals and turn in receipts. Business office staff spot-check travel expenses. But there are exceptions to travel rules. For example, when university employees are attending a conference held at a hotel, they are allowed to stay at that hotel even if there are cheaper options nearby. "They are typically supposed to reserve the most economical (hotel rooms), but we allow them to stay at the conference hotel, so we don't have an absolute limit on room rates," said Johnny Pickett, associate vice president for business and finance at ISU. Former UNI Provost Aaron Podolefsky spent $5,800 to attend a weeklong leadership course at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., in 2004. The $5,300 fee for the Educational Leadership Program's seminar for college and university chief academic officers included registration, lodging and meals. "It was more like a course, which is very different from your run-of-the-mill conference," said Podolefsky, who is now president of the University of Central Missouri. UNI did not know how much of the fee went toward the program's registration. The phone number listed for the program's office in New York City does not appear to work. Geoffroy and Skorton each spent $812 staying two nights at the Four Seasons in Washington, D.C., where the Association of American Universities was holding its presidents' meeting in April. The $406-per-night reimbursement included the hotel stay and tax. The Four Seasons standard rate is $565 per weeknight, but conference attendees often get cheaper group rates. The AAU presidents meeting includes the leaders of 62 top North American universities. "It's an opportunity to discuss the major issues confronting higher education in the United States and share information about how our various institutions address them," Geoffroy said. The group will discuss cyber security, women in science and engineering and collaborations with universities in China and India at its October meeting, he said. All of the leaders said traveling to sporting events, such as bowl games and the NCAA basketball tournament, was crucial to interacting with fans and donors. "We are working the whole time to promote our academic programs," said U of I Provost Mike Hogan. "It's efficient because a lot of alumni are together at one time." The cost of public records Iowa's public universities charged The Des Moines Register nearly $260 for information about travel expenses of their top administrators. Although the information is public and the Register intended to publish it as part of a story, the universities charged the newspaper for staff time to provide the data. The University of Iowa's original bill was $150, which included five hours of staff time at $15 per hour and $75 for computer programming. The U of I came down to $100. Iowa State University charged the Register $83.90, which included five hours of labor at $15 per hour and $8.90 for copies. The University of Northern Iowa charged $75, which was for five hours of labor at $15 per hour.
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