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UCLA Officials Bend Travel Rules With First-Class Flights, Luxury Hotels

| August 1, 2013
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Judy Olian

Dean of the UCLA Anderson School of Management Judy Olian speaks in 2010. The university paid about $296,000 for Olian’s premium airfares from 2008 to May 2012. (Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)

By Erica Perez and Agustin Armendariz

The Center for Investigative Reporting

Thirteen years ago, the University of California changed its ban on flying business or first class on the university’s dime, adding a special exception for employees with a medical need.

What followed at UCLA was an acute outbreak of medical need.

Over the past several years, six of 17 academic deans at the Westwood campus routinely have submitted doctors’ notes stating they have a medical need to fly in a class other than economy, costing the university $234,000 more than it would have for coach-class flights, expense records show.

One of these deans, Judy Olian of the Anderson School of Management, has at least twice tackled the arduous 56-mile cycling leg of the long course relay at Monterey County’s Wildflower Triathlon, according to her expense records and race results. She described herself in a 2011 Los Angeles Times profile as a “cardio junkie.”

With a medical waiver granted by UCLA, however, she has an expense account that regularly includes business-class travel. She spends more on airfare and other travel expenses per year than any other UCLA dean or the chancellor, and she also far outpaces her counterpart at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.

Olian’s travel is part of a pattern of lavish spending at the public university, which routinely bends its rules for its top academic officials, according to an analysis by The Center for Investigative Reporting of documents obtained through the state Public Records Act.

Officials have taken flights costing more than $10,000, taken chauffeured town cars to the airport and spent nights at a Four Seasons hotel at university expense.

The UCLA officials added luxury and comfort to their travels while the UC system underwent one of the worst funding crises in its history. Undergraduates have seen tuition and fees increase nearly 70 percent since the 2008 school year.

Overall, Chancellor Gene Block and 17 deans who oversee the schools of business, film and theater, law, medicine and others spent about $2 million on travel and entertainment from 2008 to 2012. About half a million went to first- or business-class airfare for the six deans with medical exemptions, according to documents.

UCLA is not the only place within the state’s public university system with liberal spending on executives. The UC Board of Regents this month approved an annual car allowance of $8,916 and a moving allowance of $142,500 for incoming President Janet Napolitano, the departing Department of Homeland Security chief.

Considered one of the best universities in the country, UCLA justifies its expenses as a way to personally connect with wealthy donors and compensate for years of declining state support.

Patrick Callan, president of the nonprofit Higher Education Policy Institute in San Jose, said no one would deny that university officials need to travel. But well-compensated administrators, he said, do not need to live luxuriously to raise money.

“Maybe we have to throw fancy parties sometimes for them (donors),” he said. “But that we have to live that lifestyle ourselves as senior higher education administrators seems to me to be pretty questionable.”

The UCLA expense reports were submitted for attending meetings with donors, stoking new educational partnerships in foreign locales, and attending academic conferences and film festivals.

For all six deans with medical exemptions, UCLA spent $486,000 on 130 business- or first-class airfares from 2008 to mid-2012, university records show. UCLA could have saved at least $234,000 by purchasing economy-class tickets based on an analysis of typical fares from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics and the Airline Tariff Publishing Co., which provides fare data.

Overall, the university paid about $296,000 for Olian’s premium airfares from 2008 to May 2012. Airfare for a June 2010 multistop trip to Washington, D.C., and Asia cost the university $12,000.

Infographic: UCLA's big spenders

In contrast, UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business dean, Richard Lyons, spent $107,000 on travel and entertainment from 2008 to 2012 – about one-sixth of Olian’s $647,000 tab for meals, lodging, registration fees, car service, airfare and other expenses, according to records obtained from UCLA Records Management and Information Practices through a public records request.

In all, UCLA paid $45,000 to book or reimburse business- and first-class flights for Teri Schwartz, dean of the university’s School of Theater, Film and Television, from July 2009, when she started the job, to May 2012. She also used the medical note to justify flying first class on shorter flights, such as an hourlong hop from Los Angeles to Las Vegas that cost $543.

Schwartz, 63, has hired a chauffeured vehicle routinely instead of a regular taxi, including two town-car trips costing $665 between London and Oxford. She uses her doctor’s note to justify traveling to and from airports by car service.

UCLA spokesman Phil Hampton said in a written statement that travel is an essential component of campus leaders’ efforts to cultivate relationships and engage alumni around the world. He said unforeseen circumstances and practical considerations sometimes warrant exceptions to travel policy.

“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,” the statement said.

The expenses troubled a state lawmaker who has been a frequent critic of the university’s spending. Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, said the deans’ expenditures should be examined further.

“Sadly, the UC system has a bad track record when it comes to spending public money openly and responsibly,” Yee said. “It is worth looking into the matter so we can assure our tax dollars are being spent wisely.”

For Olian, 61, the costs add up quickly because she has a doctor’s note that allows her to fly business or first class on her frequent trips to the East Coast and abroad.

At the same time, she competes in athletic events. In April 2011, she conquered the Wildflower Triathlon’s considerably difficult cycling leg in about 4½ hours. The course includes a dreaded 5-mile hill that climbs 1,000 feet, earning it the nickname “Nasty Grade.”

A month before joining a university-sponsored triathlon relay team in the 2011 race, Olian used a doctor’s note to justify flying first class to Florida, where she met with a donor and attended the Wall Street Journal’s Women in the Economy conference. UCLA paid about $2,400 for the airfare, nearly four times as much as the average fares at that time.

None of the deans would comment about their expenses or medical waivers. UCLA Anderson spokeswoman Allison Holmes declined to identify Olian’s medical condition but said it allows her to bike.

“There are many medical conditions that enable individuals to do certain activities, but not others, (such as) fly in confined spaces for longer flights,” she said.

Officials at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management said about $80,000 of Olian’s expenses have been or will be reimbursed by outside organizations.

Holmes said the business school does not use state funding to pay for travel and entertainment expenses, relying instead on sources such as tuition revenue and donations. She said the school considers travel and entertainment to be necessary investments.

“Fundraising is therefore vital for the dean of UCLA Anderson in the face of diminishing state support, in order for us to remain the world-class school that we are and have been,” she said.

“Globalization is one of the biggest priorities for Anderson, and the dean’s results have been remarkable, including many new global alumni chapters and global immersion programs, a new global center, two joint global degree programs and an applicant pool that is now over 50 percent from abroad.”

The independent, nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting is the country’s largest investigative reporting team. For more, visit www.cironline.org. The reporters can be reached at eperez@cironline.org and aarmendariz@cironline.org.

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Category: Education

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  • UCLA Media Relations

    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.

    • FedUpInCali

      It’s unfortunate that you can’t see the bigger problem here and take responsibility. How hard would it be to say that you see the problem, it’s gone on too long, we will do everything we can to fix it.

      I think you’re spinning the numbers just like you intimate that CIR is. You’re telling me that all these deans bring in hundreds of millions of dollars by them selves – not buying it. If so, guess the school doesn’t need a development department, right?

      The fact remains that these deans are receiving special treatment and taking advantage of whatever they can. Why? What sort of example are these “leaders” setting? I can’t see any justification for them to travel and stay in luxury just because they can.

      Seems like the glitz and glamour of being in Los Angeles has gone to their heads.

      It’s so comforting that these entitled one-percenters are shaping the minds of our future leaders.

  • Bull

    Notice that UCLA’s response makes no mention of Teri Schwartz, Dean of the School of Theater, Film and Television. That’s because she’s brought in $0 to the School and UCLA can’t spin that like they try to spin Judy Olian’s exorbitant spending. Schwartz has only spent, spent, spent.