Local: Education

University of Virginia board racks up expenses of its own

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Photo - University of Virginia Rector Helen Dragas, smiles as she talks with board of visitors member W. Haywood Fralin, during a meeting at the rotunda at the school Tuesday, June 26, 2012 in Charlottesville, Va. The board voted to reinstate president Teresa Sullivan. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
University of Virginia Rector Helen Dragas, smiles as she talks with board of visitors member W. Haywood Fralin, during a meeting at the rotunda at the school Tuesday, June 26, 2012 in Charlottesville, Va. The board voted to reinstate president Teresa Sullivan. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Local,Virginia,Education,Steve Contorno

The University of Virginia Board of Visitors, which complained that the school was facing fiscal peril this summer when it ousted President Teresa Sullivan, spends more than other state college boards on its own accommodations whenever it travels or meets.

The U.Va. board spent more than $125,000 over the past year on food and travel, two to three times more than comparably sized Virginia colleges, according to documents obtained by The Washington Examiner.

Indeed, on the June day the board gathered to address the furor caused by Sullivan's ouster and to reinstate her, there were $414 worth of gourmet cookies, fruit and fair-trade coffee waiting for members in the next room.

The 16-member board meets about six times a year, but its biggest expense is its annual retreat. The two-day meeting in Alexandria last year cost $34,000, mostly for food and lodging, including nearly $4,400 on a members' dinner with Sullivan at Restaurant Eve in Old Town. The Alexandria retreat cost nearly $10,000 more than the 2010 conference in Virginia Beach, where rooms were going for $300 a night. The board's next retreat is Aug. 16 in Richmond.

Board Rector Helen Dragas told The Examiner that the retreats are an "opportunity for the board to focus carefully on one or two important issues," though members do want to control the event's cost.

"The board staff has been asked to ensure that the costs of the Richmond meeting will be reasonable," Dragas said.

U.Va. board members are unpaid volunteers appointed by the governor. Many are alumni, and most are independently wealthy.

"The university feels that because the board does much for the university and commits so much time, it's incumbent to us to offer these expenses," administration spokeswoman Carol Wood said.

Wood said the university is mindful of employee expenses, but board's leadership decides its own travel and food arrangements.

One board member is reimbursed for travel. A. Macdonald Caputo lives in Connecticut and, for medical reasons, doesn't fly. So he was reimbursed $2,200 over the past year for the chauffeured car that brings him to the Charlottesville campus and back.

The U.Va. board's expenses are far more than other Virginia schools. Virginia Commonwealth University, with nearly 32,000 students compared to U.Va.'s 24,300, spent less than $48,000 on board expenses this year. Virginia Tech, with about 31,000 students, spent about $88,000 in the 2011 school year, though school officials acknowledge blowing out their budget -- for a total of $145,000 -- this past year, with a special meeting in Northern Virginia.

"One could ask whether board members who could afford to do so should be expensing very large items to the university as opposed to donating," U.Va. Faculty Senate Chairman George Cohen said. "That's something I think we would need to look at."

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

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