Are OU And OSU Spending Too Much on Travel?

Friday, April 24th 2009, 11:07 am
By: News On 6

By Amy Lester, NEWS 9 for

OKLAHOMA CITY -- While Oklahoma colleges and universities raised tuition and fees about 9 percent, they were spending $60 million on travel. That's a number some say seems too high.

Parents, students and even the state treasurer are asking why Oklahoma colleges and universities spent $60 million on travel in the last fiscal year.

State Treasurer Scott Meacham wonders, if it's all really necessary.

"There's sort of a culture of well, we don't pay you quite as much as you make in the public sector but we'll make up for it by doing a lot of trips and conferences and things like that," said Oklahoma State Treasurer Scott Meacham.

A spokesman for the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education said that's not the case, insisting every dollar's justified.

"When you look at the mission, when you look at the reasonability that our governing boards have determined for their budget, then it's certainly justifiable for us to, in order to accomplish that mission, to have that kind of travel budget," said Ben Hardcastle with the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education.

NEWS 9 decided to crunch the numbers, focusing on OU and OSU. NEWS 9 contacted the universities asking to see their travel records.

Both universities handed over travel logs, thousands of pages of spreadsheets, showing basic information. Nearly $3 million went toward mileage, more than $3 million for meals and more than $3 million for plane tickets. NEWS 9 dug deeper and got receipts for some expenses that stuck out.

At OU, a sociology professor went to New York to present information at a conference, and collect data. His hotel in Times Square was nearly $500 a night. An OU music professor traveled to Europe to study the teaching and performing techniques used by clarinet teachers. His trip totaled nearly $9,000, $3,500 from state funds.

Altogether, OU shelled out $22 million for travel, OU Press Secretary Jay Doyle said that's about three percent of the total budget and every penny is spent properly.

"All of our travel expenses by our employees go through the proper approval processes and I'm sure the supervisors look at each of these requests very carefully and understand what is appropriate and what is not appropriate," said OU's Press Secretary.

At OSU, a family science professor went on a study abroad immersion program in Italy for $3,700, paid for with Extension Study course fees. A Physiological Sciences professor dished out $5,700 to give seminars and establish collaboration in research with Universities in China, paid for with a federal grant.

The bill for the entire OSU system came in at about $16 million, less than two percent of the total budget. OSU Director of Communications Gary Shutt believes every dollar's justified.

"We are good stewards of the money that we are given, whether it's state money, donor money or wherever the money comes from we're good stewards. We're always looking to make sure we're spending every dollar wisely," said Shutt.

NEWS 9 asked the universities to see the actual receipts instead of travel logs for the whole year. The schools said, because of privacy reasons, they needed to remove personal information and make copies, which NEWS 9 would have to pay for. OU gave a quote of $10,000. OSU's estimate was more than $100,000. NEWS 9 will continue to work to get more information from the universities.

The schools paid for the $60 million in travel with about $18 million from tuition and state appropriations, nearly $16 million from federal awards, grants and contracts, and about $30 million from self generated funds like athletics, ticket sales, museum entrance fees or student housing.