UCLA deans travel like rock stars as tuition soars out of middle-class reach
A shocking investigation by the Center for Investigative Reporting demonstrates that several deans at the University of California, Los Angeles have run up outrageous tabs for travel and entertainment.
Expense records obtained by CIR through California’s Public Records Act indicate that UCLA Chancellor Gene Block and 17 various deans who oversee the state-funded school managed to use up approximately $2 million on travel and entertainment from 2008 to 2012.
The most flagrant abuses have come in wasteful spending on airfare.
About a decade ago, the prestigious University of California system prohibited its employees from flying first class or business class on the state’s tab. The regents added an exception, though, for anyone with a medical need for such seating.
Astonishingly, six of 17 academic deans at UCLA have been stricken with medical conditions that somehow prevent them from sitting with the hoi polloi in economy class.
At least, that’s what the deans’ doctor’s notes have said.
The public university paid out $486,000 for 130 first-class and business-class flights for the six deans who had produced doctor’s notes. Based on an analysis by CIR of typical economy-class fares, the additional cost of this upgraded travel was $234,000.
A spokesman on the Westwood campus defended the exorbitant travel costs in a written statement to CIR, explaining that the spendthrift deans attended meetings where they schmoozed with donors and developed vital educational partnerships.
“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 a national leader in securing gifts and research funding,” wrote university spokesman Phil Hampton.
While the competition is stiff, the UCLA dean who has shown the most hilarious chutzpah appears to be Judy Olian of the Anderson School of Management.
Olian who has used a doctor-approved medical waiver for business class travel, has also been part of a relay team completing the Wildflower Triathlon. Her role was a 56-mile cycling leg.
At Racevine.com, previous participants in the race describe the Wildflower Triathlon as a “super hard,” “brutally honest test” that is “not for the casual triathlete.”
In a 2011 Los Angeles Times profile unearthed by CIR, Olian, 61, has called herself a “cardio junkie.”
A spokeswoman for the UCLA business school, Allison Holmes would not specify Olian’s medical ailment but said the dean is able to bike long, arduous distances.
“There are many medical conditions that enable individuals to do certain activities, but not others, (such as) fly in confined spaces for longer flights,” Holmes added—without specifying any of these convenient maladies.
Olian reportedly consumes far more on travel and expenses than any other bigwig administrator at UCLA (or, for that matter, the dean of Cal Berkeley’s business school, who somehow managed to spend just one-sixth of what Olian spent over the same time period).
All told, from 2008 to 2012, Dean Olian racked up $647,000 for airfare, lodging, food, ground transportation and other goods and services, notes CIR.
Other UCLA deans are certainly doing their part to waste money, albeit on a relatively less ambitious scale.
For example, records obtained by CIR show that “back issues” have made it simply out of the question for Teri Schwartz, dean of the university’s School of Theater, Film and Television, to fly economy class.
Schwartz also regularly used chauffeured town cars for trips to the airport. She rode with her beloved dog, says CIR, and added five dollars each way to drop the animal at a kennel.
State employees routinely spent nights at world-class hotels. On at least one occasion, they also stayed at hotels just a few miles from Los Angeles.
The luxurious voyages and expenses accumulated by UCLA’s deans come at a time when the University of California system has seen an acute and ongoing budgetary crisis. Since 2008, tuition for undergrads across the UC system has increased almost 70 percent.
At the same time, the UC Board of Regents decided to award a $142,500 “relocation” bonus to Janet Napolitano, the departing Department of Homeland Security chief and the system’s highly unpopular incoming president. Napolitano will also receive a generous car allowance worth nearly $9,000.
This year, California residents can expect to pay over $30,000 per year if they want to attend UCLA and live on campus. Out-of-state undergrads can expect to shell out well over $50,000 annually for the same privilege.