EAST LANSING, Mich. – While student tuition rates around the country are skyrocketing, officials at Michigan State University have been living and traveling in luxury.
A recent report by WXYZ uncovered that university trustees have spent hundreds of thousands of school dollars on travel, entertainment and meals.
The entertainment expenses over the last year include a total of $68,000 to attend Spartan athletic events and $24,000 for tickets to performances at the university’s Wharton Center for Performing Arts.
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A school official told WXYZ that the university encourages trustees to cash-in on the tickets, saying there are “typically donor and alumni sessions” to attend, and “the presence of Trustees…is important,” the story reports.
One trustee, Joel Ferguson, is a multi-millionaire developer who took in at least 19 shows at the Wharton Center on the university’s dime. The shows he attended include Wicked, Carrie Underwood and Jerry Seinfield.
Ferguson refused to answer to reporters when approached at a board meeting last week.
Another trustee, Faylene Owen, took full advantage of a Spartan athletic event in Germany to turn the trip into a luxurious vacation for her and her husband.
The university covered the airline tickets for the couple at $5,698 a piece, as well as the cost of a stay at the “opulent” Steigenburger hotel, which costs as much as $1,275 a night.
A university spokesman said that during Owen’s weeklong stay in Germany, she watched the basketball game, met with students studying abroad and hosted an alumni dinner for just 10 guests, according to the story.
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The report found that after the events in Germany, Owen and her husband ventured on to Paris, where they spent three nights in a hotel at a cost of $980 a night.
A spokesman said that she hosted another alumni dinner and visited the U.S. Embassy while in Paris.
On top of the $3,000 the couple received in cash stipends, they accumulated nearly $3,000 in limousine bills during their time being chauffeured around Germany and France.
The total bill for the 10-day trip was $26,319, which is close to a year’s tuition for a MSU student.
When approached by the reporter at the last Board of Trustees meeting, Owen snuck out the back door and hid in a locked room.
But the Owens are not the only ones to take advantage of this extra travel benefit.
The report also found that former trustee Melanie Foster, who was not reelected last November, traveled to South Africa last year on a 10-day trip with her husband John, racking up a bill of $20,011.
The trip included a stay in a “family suite” and her schedule included two personal days, an alumni dinner and reception, recruiting potential students, and university tours, the WXYZ report found.
After the reporters asked to see a copy of her bills, Foster sent MSU a check for $14,000 to cover her husband’s expenses on the trip that happened over 9 months ago.
She claimed that paying back the university slipped her mind, primarily because of a death in the family.
“I thought that I…I had a very serious death in the family at the end of the year. I honestly thought I did it,” she told the reporter who showed up at her doorstop after she originally canceled their scheduled interview.
Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon claims that the travel funds were money well spent.
“If you look at the role that spouses play in hosting dinners, dealing with donors, a wide variety of activities that are very similar to what happens on campus,” Simon reasoned.
At a time when MSU has raised tuition by nearly 20% since 2010, this report will surely lead some to question the necessity of these expenses.
And even though the money spent by the trustees does not come directly from tuition dollars, it does come from other public money in university investment accounts.
With each tuition increase, university officials continue to push the rhetoric of asking students to find ways to tighten their belts and become more fiscally responsible.
But this report proves that the time has come for officials to practice what they have been preaching all along.
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