The Sacramento Bee this week is reporting that, over the period from December 2010 to February 2016, UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi made 26 international trips costing the university more than $174,000.
According to the Bee, “It is unclear whether her travel paid off for the university.”
The article states, “Records show that the chancellor spared little expense when traveling for UC Davis. When flying, she often accumulated thousands of dollars of charges to move up to first class, add legroom or purchase onboard internet access. She frequently rebooked flights for her convenience.”
“You can fly first class if you have a compelling work reason,” Dianne Klein, University of California spokeswoman told the Bee. “You have to have a legitimate reason.”
Linda Katehi’s spokesperson Larry Kamer noted that the UC report on the Katehi investigation was supposed to be released on Monday, however, it has been delayed for an unspecified reason.
Mr. Kamer believes there is a coordinated effort between the UC press office and the Sacramento Bee that is “designed to smear and embarrass Chancellor Katehi.” He said the effort “is getting ridiculous.”
Mr. Kamer asserts, “The University of California has routinely audited Chancellor Katehi’s travel every year and found no irregularities.” He added, “Likewise, the Chancellor’s husband (who is also a tenured faculty member at UC Davis) has also had his travel audited annually without issue or incident.”
One clear problem with the Bee article is that the Bee has no way of knowing whether the trips were cost-effective. They acknowledge this in their statement, as noted above, “It is unclear whether her travel paid off for the university. UC Davis spokeswoman Dana Topousis said there is no reliable way to track the donations generated from these trips.”
Therefore, what if the chancellor cost the university $174,000 but obtained millions in donations for her efforts?
As Larry Kamer notes, “Much of the Chancellor’s travel has been in support of fundraising for UC Davis, where she has raised more money than ANY other Chancellor. From July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016, UCD raised $226,176,992—the greatest dollar-amount in UC Davis fundraising history—from 34,318 donors. “
He continues, “These funds—now more than $1 billion raised under Chancellor Katehi’s leadership—directly benefit student scholarships, faculty compensation, and expansion of programs that keep UCD in the top tier of the nation’s universities for STEM education, diversity of faculty, and enrollment of in-state students.”
It was only six days ago that UC Davis put out a release that they had their best fundraising year in history.
Another problem is that the Bee fails to put this spending into perspective. Larry Kamer noted, “Chancellor Katehi’s travel expenses are lower than most of her peers at other UC campuses.” But, while the Sacramento Bee quotes Tax Advocate Jon Coupal as saying, “That is pretty embarrassing,” the Bee makes no effort to determine if the spending is unusual for UC chancellors.
The Bee article, on the contrary, argued, “Katehi upgraded her seats to first class at least 25 times in the five years covered by the records, although Delta Airlines bumped her up for free on several occasions. It’s unclear how much the upgrades cost the university as the travel expenses often just reported the total cost of each ticket.”
The Bee continued, “Travel records show that Katehi justified her flight upgrades because either the itinerary involved overnight travel or she needed room to prepare for a presentation or to conduct university business.”
The UC travel policy says that “transportation expenses should be reimbursed based on the most economical mode of transportation.”
The question is whether any of this is objectively unreasonable. In one case that the Bee cites, “On one return trip from Vienna in March 2011, Katehi spent $224.80 to rebook a flight to avoid a leg that would have gone through Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport, where there had been delays.”
Is that an unreasonable consideration? $200 is not going to substantially impact $174,000 in travel costs on 26 trips.
The Bee adds, “In June 2011, Katehi and her husband each charged $407 to their university credit cards to change flights on a trip back to Sacramento from Switzerland because a meeting was canceled and they wanted to return early to deal with university issues.”
Finally, Mr. Kamer notes that these were university trips and “her personal trips, or portions of trips that are personal, have always been paid from personal funds.” He added, “That is a matter of public record.”
Attorney Melinda Guzman told the Vanguard, “The investigators spent very little time on the chancellor’s travel expenses during the interview likely because the expenses are so very well documented and they were audited annually without incident.”
She would add, “In addition, the investigators asked no questions whatsoever about the alleged misuse of student fee income—presumably because no evidence exists at all to support that allegation against the chancellor, yet that issue was used as the basis for the whistleblower investigation on 4/27.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting