Is U of H tuition paying bar bills?

May 7, 2009 6:03:54 PM PDT
We don't need to tell parents college tuition has skyrocketed, but you have a right to see the bills. If you get the best grades in college, you might get on the dean's list. But let's see what grade you give the deans at the University of Houston.

You think a frat house runs up a big bar bill? Wait until we show you the liquor tab run up by the folks running the University of Houston.

Of course it's against the law for state workers to use your tax money for liquor, so state-run U of H made its own rules. They drink on the tuition money they get from students and their parents.

"I don't think that any of our money should go towards someone else's drinking habits," said U of H student Christopher Simmons.

In fact, the Cougar brass even have a special account just for booze.

"A separate account for alcohol? I didn't know about that," said University of Houston Provost John Antell.

Well there is.

"No place else in government is there a line item for alcohol," said Tom Smith, an education watchdog.

It's called account 53113; spending last year accounted for more than $126,000, much of it by a handful of administrators and their wives.

"These are monies raised to help kids, not help you with your high," said Smith.

And we're finding bar bills, big ones, in lots of other UH accounts, like in a Galveston retreat for Mechanical Engineering faculty and staff.

And the annual dean's retreat at the San Luis Resort, they drink at dinner after a couple hours of meeting and then there's another big bar bill after the dinner.

"Oh, that's part of the meeting. That's what we do," said Antell.

"Drinking?" we asked.

"It's a social event that's related to the meeting," he replied.

After all, as one receipt explained, liquor helps boost faculty morale.

If you're going to wine, you might as well dine.

Since January 1, 2008, we found more than one million dollars just for business meals at the U of H central campus.

You know who tops our wining and dining dean's list? It's Dean John Bear of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. Bear isn't talking.

When we asked UH Chancellor Renu Khator if she had anything to say to the parents and students, all she said was, "Go Coogs."

To be fair, it's easy to run up big tabs when you're wining and dining at places like Mark's.

"Students shouldn't be funding the excessive lifestyles of the administrators of the university," said Smith.

When asked how many conference rooms UH has, Antell said," Oh, I don't know. There's plenty of conference rooms."

U of H also has a restaurant school on campus and a restaurant, but when it was time to discuss future university fundraising, Artista was the choice. The bill was more than $850.

"Occasionally we like to do that and get out. We're really busy and so we'll do that," said Antell.

That's why Provost Antell can justify his pricey dinner with Dean Fitzgibbon of the College of Technology.

The liquor bill for just the two of them was $112. That means the steaks weren't the biggest item. There's no stated business purpose on the receipt, so why are the kids and their parents paying the bill?

"Pay for the bar bill? Because we're doing the business of the university, that's why," said Antell.

Dean Fitzgibbon and his wife took out a math professor to dinner at Catalan on Washington. The stated business purpose was to discuss math. Let's see: a bottle of wine adds $56 to the tab. That's math.

"Last year I have $4,500 (in loans)," said UH student Hung Lam.

The math that helps Lam pay for college at U of H and the lifestyle of its top administrators.

"I think they should cut it out. Lower tuition to help the students because most of us have loans," said Lam.

"I don't want to stop people from entertaining because a lot of what we have to do to compete in our marketplace is to entertain," said Antell.

That explains some of these wining and dining bills, like two dinners where a dean, his wife, and other faculty, and their wives tried to recruit a new professor. The total cost of the two meals was more than $2,000.

"That's not part of the reasons why people are attracted to universities. It's not the quality of their liquor that matters, it's the quality of their minds," said Smith.

Tonight at 10pm, the deans take you around the world. Are kids paying for their sightseeing? Watch our exclusive report on Eyewitness News.

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