UH changes its travel policy

May 14, 2009 8:51:39 PM PDT
The University of Houston has new policies to stop the misspending of student tuition money. In the wake of a 13 Undercover investigation, a top official at U of H now admits there have been "lapses in judgment in the way the tuition money has been used." "We want people to understand they are spending other people's money," said UH Provost John Antel.

What a difference a 13 Undercover investigation makes. We exposed the special alcohol account used by UH administrators. The bar tab was picked up by the students.

"A separate account for alcohol? Geez, I really don't know about that," said Antel weeks earlier.

The sightseeing during trips to meet foreign educators.

"Have you ever seen the Taj Mahal?" asked Antel.

Actually, no, because we've never gotten anybody to pay for a trip to India.

Expensive business meals at the finest restaurants, wives included.

The UH student senate wanted answers.

"There's nothing illegal about what we've done, but I have to come clean with you. I think there have been some lapses in judgment about the way the money was spent," said Antel.

It was the provost who just weeks earlier defended the wining and dining on the kids money.

"Pay for the bill because we are doing the university's business, that's why," said Antel.

Now Antel said, "There is going to be rigorous enforcement about how this trip promotes university business."

The new UH travel policy will tighten scrutiny on foreign trips.

"Most people are forthright about what they are doing, but we found in a few cases it was a little too cryptic and unresponsive to the questions about why people were going abroad," said Antel.

Deans will still get to spend $100 a person on business meals.

"What we tried to do now is conform as much as possible with what the University of Texas, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech, and other universities are doing with travel, entertainment, and expenditures," said Antel.

If that's true, it's more than any elected official gets to spend.

"They should be limited to same kinds of tough limits that we have for other state employees," said education watchdog Tom Smith.

It is nearly triple other high ranking state employees.

"It's just about elitism and feeling they are entitled to something that other people aren't," said Smith.

Antel promised, "We want to be the best stewards of money whether its state money or money coming from tuition from students."

UH will still wine and dine its donors using donated money.

One student asked what we had in our stories: Couldn't donors be entertained on campus at the restaurant in the hotel school?

"Some of the people we raise money with are very affluent people. They expect we're not going to spend $500 on a bottle of wine, but they expect something above what we would have on this campus," said Antel.

As for the students' money, it will no longer be used for food, liquor, entertainment and business or first class travel. More than a million in tuition money saved as a result of our investigation so far.

"There are certain people misusing this money, is there anything being done to the people? Are they being reprimanded or is there any sort of punishment," asked one student.

The provost claims some top administrators may be disciplined, but he won't say who.

"There's always the possibility that we won't reimburse some of the things they have asked for," said Antel.

The new UH policies are listed below.

Documents related to this story

UH announces travel policy change after 13 Undercover investigation (pdf)
UH announces travel policy change after 13 Undercover investigation (pdf)
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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