University of Texas President Gregory Fenves and his wife flew numerous times in premium class — business or first — using public money, despite policy explicitly prohibiting it, an audit has found.
Fenves now has to reimburse the system $27,000 for his high-flying tastes, which is the difference between economy and premium.
When an audit obtained by the Austin American-Statesman revealed the spending, which accounted for 50 flights for Fenves and 40 for his wife, Fenves told the newspaper, “I thought it was approved.” He added, “I’ve not been asked to pay it back.”
According to the audit summary: “The travel and entertainment expenses incurred by the president and his spouse appeared appropriate and accurate; however, premium airfare (i.e., first, business, or other premium class) was purchased for the president and his spouse on multiple occasions during the audit scope.
UT Austin’s institutional travel policy does not allow for payment of premium airfare without an approved allowable exception, which includes a documented health issue, only seat available, lowest available fare, contract/agreement requires it, another entity is reimbursing the airfare, or a research grant allows it with the use of grant funds. The reasons provided in the supporting documentation for the premium airfares identified did not fall under any of these allowable exceptions.”
The university has previously called attention to travel in the office of the presidents at the system’s flagship school.
While the previous period, FY 2013, found no problems, the audit in FY 2015 found trouble with the expense reporting of the office of the president. In that case, it was Fenves’ predecessor Bill Powers.
“…Several travel expenses and one entertainment expense were omitted, and a few minor inaccuracies were found,” the report noted.
The suggestion at that time was that “the Office of the President should strengthen the process of preparing and reviewing the quarterly reports to ensure they are complete, accurate, and consistent.”
Another item in the FY 2015 audit stated that “Direct billed travel and entertainment expenses paid on behalf of the president and his spouse are not being approved by the [chief business officer].
“Fenves makes a base salary of $750,000, tops among university presidents in the University of Texas System. He turned down a $1 million offer when he took office in 2015, according to a report at the time, citing obtained inside emails.
“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 Pedro Reyes, the UT System’s executive vice chancellor for academic affairs.
He also said it would prompt “widespread negative attention from students and faculty given the difficult budgetary constraints of the past five years.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story said that taxpayer money was used to fund Gregory Fenves and his wife’s upgraded travel. The trips were instead paid for from a fund set up in 1984 with gifts donated to support presidential expenses.
Steve Miller can be reached at [email protected]