AUSTIN, TX — The president of the University of Texas at Austin and his wife took multiple business class air flights costing nearly $30,000 in favor of economy class accommodations in violation of school policy, according to a published report.
In the wake of a report by the Austin American-Statesman about the travel, UT-Austin President Gregory L. Fenves said through a spokesman on Monday that he would reimbusrse the univerity for the travel. Uncovered during an audit of expenditures, the travel costs cover some 50 flights for Fenves, his wife and UT-Austin’s chief communications officer Gary Susswein to destinations that include New York, Washington, China, South Korea, Singapore and other locales, according to the report.
It’s unclear if Susswein would personally reimburse the university for his business class travel expenses.
University travel policy does not allow for payment of airfare for first or business class when flying on university business without an approved exception, the Staetsman noted in its report. Such exceptions include medical issues.
Patch reached out to J.B. Bird for more details. In an emailed response, Bird sent the publicly available audit report in PDF form. He also provided key findings from the financial audit:
President Fenves flew business class or first class on approximately 50 occasions between June 2015 and November 2017.Mrs. Fenves did so on approximately 40 occasions.There was a total additional cost of approximately $27,000, which the president is reimbursing.All of these trips were all taken for official university business: to meet with alumni, donors, and potential university partners.one of this money came from state funding, tax dollars or tuition money. It was paid from a fund set up in 1984 with gifts donated to support presidential expenses, including travel. Aside from the additional costs for premium airfare, the audit concluded: "The travel and entertainment expenses incurred by the president and his spouse appeared appropriate and accurate."
Susswein released a prepared stateement on behalf of Fenves: "President Fenves accepts the findings of this audit, will reimburse the university for the cost of the business class travel, and his office will follow all internal policies. The trips identified by the audit were taken for official university business. They were not paid for with tax or tuition dollars, but with gift funds specifically donated for presidential expenses. We acknowledge the audit results and the need to follow university rules."
"I thought it was approved," Fenves told the Statesman about the travel, adding he plans to reimburse the university for the expenses.
When Fenves accepted the president’s job in April 2015, he declined university officials’ offer of a $1 million annual salary, opting instead for base pay of $750,000 a year to avoid casting himself among the ranks of university officials drawing compensation deemed too lavish at other schools. Emails obtained by the Austin American-Statesman laid bare his unusual request, which earned Fenves wide praise at the time.
"With many issues and concerns about administrative costs, affordability and tuition, such a salary will affect the ability of the president to work with the Texas Legislature on matters important to the university," Fenves told a top UT system official at the time, the newspaper reported. Fenves added the higher pay would prompt "widespread negative attention from students and faculty given the difficult budgetary constraints of the past five years."
>>> Photo of Gregory L. Fenves via University of Texas at Austin