U of H chancellor living large

May 9, 2009 5:00:41 AM PDT
The University of Houston said it will ban the use of student tuition money to pay for bar tabs, food, entertainment, and business class travel. After weeks of silence, the school chancellor now admits the spending 13 Undercover found is inappropriate. There are many perks of being the chancellor at the University of Houston, from opera tickets and a private club membership, to a driver who washes a $50,000, university-provided car.

Wouldn't you love to have your own driver? Someone to wash your car, fill it up with gas? A full-time housekeeper? Well, UH Chancellor Renu Khator has it all.

Wouldn't you just hate to have to live in a $6 million mansion, one in the exclusive Broad Acres neighborhood? The one with the topiary cougar in the front and the red and white flowers adorning the driveway? There's a big pool and manicured grounds. It's the burden Chancellor Khator has to live with.

"This isn't a gift. She's required by contract to live in that house," said Chairman of the UH Board of Regents Welcome Wilson.

Chancellor Khator is paid $425,000 a year. She gets to use donor money for a $14,000 membership to the Houstonian, season tickets to the rodeo and the opera, but she has to live here, mortgage free, of course.

"It's so that people can be invited to the house for events and develop a more personal relationship with the president and so forth," said Wilson.

So how many events are held there?

The schedule since Chancellor Khator took over is an average of four events a month. In September there was only one meeting held there.

"Why does the University of Texas, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech all furnish houses for the president?" asked Wilson.

In fact of those schools only Texas A&M told us they provide a house. The Wortham House was originally donated to UH for the president to live in, but it's an expensive piece of real estate, costing at least $200,000 a year just to maintain.

Since January 1, 2008, the figure is even higher: $397,000, including $13,000 in holiday decorations.

"Every university, every public university, has come and asked for more money. It's never about, 'Can we cut?'" said Texas Senator Dan Patrick of Houston.

UH has a grounds crew but pays an outside landscaping firm to take care of Wortham House. That bill is $3,600 a month.

UH has a maintenance department but used interior designers even to paint rooms in the house. They paid design time to pick out and set up four new HD TVs, including two in the master bedroom suite and to buy a $500 clock radio with i-Pod docking. The sheets for the master bedroom were $500 a piece.

All were ordered before Chancellor Khator got there, but the chancellor still doesn't have to pay her own cable bill, with all the movie channels from HBO to Bollywood.

"There's no cook there that's cooking for the chancellor. There is no hand maidens," said Wilson.

But there is a full-time housekeeper as well as a second housekeeper who works one week a month.

"You need someone to clean up. The chancellor has more important things to be doing than clean the house," said Wilson.

Unlike Chancellor Khator, the president of UH-Downtown has to live in his own house, but Max Castillo's contract gives him a full-time housekeeper to help with all the events at his private house.

"There was one even there since September," we said to education watchdog Tom Wilson.

"To have a housekeeper for one event for an entire year, that's outrageous," said Wilson.

Wilson defended the contract, saying, "Max as you know is retiring in a few months so he may have slowed down in the entertainment in the last year. I don't know."

President Castillo does have to drive himself around, but UH provides a driver for Chancellor Khator. Job duties for the $53,000 full-time job include washing the $50,000 Cadillac the chancellor gets to drive, filling it up with gas, and sometimes chauffeuring her, like the trip to a regents' meeting in Clear Lake.

"Why is she so important that she needs to have someone drive her?" asked Smith.

Wilson disagrees, saying, "You act as if this some kind of benefit. I don't consider it a benefit to the chancellor at all."

In fact, Chairman Wilson said it's about efficiency.

"If she's driving for thirty minutes, then she cannot be working for thirty minutes, so that's a very fruitful opportunity for the university to get more work out of her," said Wilson.

Documents related to this story

UH announces travel policy change after 13 Undercover investigation (pdf)
Letter from UH Chancellor/President Renu Khator (pdf)
Texas Tuition increases from Fall 02 to Fall '08 (xls)
Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board: Tuition and Fees (ppt)
Discretionary spending by UH President/Chancellor Renu Khator (xls)

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