The presidents of six publicly-funded Utah universities spent a collective $128,175.10 in overnight and out-of-state travel during the 2019 fiscal year, according to records.
University of Utah President Ruth Watkins and Utah Valley University President Astrid Tuminez spent the most among the presidents on travel, totaling $51,216.08 and $27,397.79, respectively, according to records obtained by the Daily Herald through the Government Records Access and Management Act.
Southern Utah University President Scott Wyatt spent $19,252 during the 2019 fiscal year, Utah State University President Noelle Cockett spent $18,324.27, Dixie State University President Richard Williams spent $6,022.77 and Weber State University President Brad Mortensen spent $5,962.
The Utah System of Higher Education Board of Regents, which oversees Utah’s public universities and colleges, delegates oversight of presidents’ travel through the institution’s individual governing boards.
Tuminez’s travel was paid for by the UVU Foundation, according to a record of her travel for the fiscal year 2019, which ran from June 30, 2018 to July 1, 2019.
Her travel included a May 4 to May 11 trip to Russia totaling $12,785.74, a Dec. 14 to Dec. 19 trip to New York City that cost $3,821.83 and a $900 airline cancellation fee for a planned June 20 to June 26 trip to London.
In total, the 12 trips included 39 travel days that cost an average of $702.49 per day, including the cancelation fee for the London trip.
The canceled London trip was organized by the Center for Constitutional Studies to take donors to Oxford to see the progress of the Quill Project, according to a written statement by Scott Trotter, a spokesman for UVU. Trotter said the trip, which would have cost $6,000, was canceled due to university demands that caused Tuminez to need to remain on campus.
The trip to New York City, labeled as being for development and for meetings with various news agencies, included $1,369.22 in charges for a car service, according to an expense report from the trip.
The university chose a car service over other transportation options such as a taxi, rideshare or public transit due to the complexity of the president’s travel, according to Trotter.
“The price of a four-day service reflects a competitive rate for the market,” he said.
The Russia trip included a $6,834.75 flight for Tuminez, a meeting with a Russian art collector to discuss an exhibit at UVU, a meeting with Ambassador Jon Huntsman and a multi-day tour of Russia, according to documents. The tour was part of the Woodbury School of Business National Advisory Board’s Russia trip, according to Trotter.
As part of the trip, the university made two payments to Kensington Tours — one for Astrid Tuminez and one for her husband, Jeffrey Tolk — that each cost about $4,979.99.
Trotter said the $10,000 in tour fees included in-country transportation in Russia, lodging and meals. He said that Tuminez and Tolk participated in development activities with members of the national advisory board on the trip as part of the board’s agenda.
“The main purpose of the trip was development of relationships with potential donors and strengthening the relationship with current members of the Woodbury School of Business National Advisory Board,” Trotter said.
An itinerary for the May 4 to May 12 tour includes private vehicles and tour guides, rooms at what are labeled as five star hotels, sightseeing trips, arts programs, a private boat tour and a show where guests were offered canapes with red caviar.
Trotter said that funds for the president’s travel comes from a general administrative fund from the UVU Foundation, not from private donations. The UVU Foundation allocates $60,000 for the president’s travel each year. Trotter said Tuminez and Tolk’s travel reports are reviewed by the university’s audit committee and that the $60,000 serves as a guideline, not an absolute limit.
“The president’s travel is managed under the University’s employee travel policy,” Trotter said. “She is required to get the same approvals, submit the same receipts, and is subject to the same expense limitations as all other employees. In addition to fully complying with University travel policy, the Regents require that the travel of all USHE presidents be reviewed by their respective audit committee, board of trustees, and then reported to the Board of Regents.”
The president’s hotels are chosen based on itinerary needs, proximity to meeting locations and security, according to Trotter. Her flights are selected based on her schedule and in accordance with university policy, which states that employees are responsible for making sure that their travel is justified, that they verify travel expenses, follow university policy and are a prudent use of funds, are documented and are accounted for within the required timeframes.
The president’s spouse is considered a university employee and his travel is paid by the university if it meets the requirements for traveling on university business.
U of U President Ruth Watkins’ $51,216.08 was spent over 18 trips and 65 days of travel, averaging about $787.94 per day of travel.
Some trips, including a $11,596.22 trip to Italy and a $11,747.46 trip to England for the Tanner Lectures on Human Values, were paid for by funds donated for that purpose, according to Chris Nelson, a spokesman for the U of U.
A trip to Beijing incurred additional airline costs after Watkins left China early following the killing of Lauren McCluskey in Oct. 2018. Watkins traveled twice to Washington to visit the McCluskey family that year, including one trip for Lauren McCluskey’s memorial service and a second trip in December to meet with the family, according to the records.
The documents note that Watkins commonly does not claim meal expenses on trips and often reimburses the university for her husband’s airfare.
“She oftentimes will not seek complete reimbursement,” Nelson said.
Nelson said every U of U president has been different with their travel. He said the president will travel for fundraising purposes, community relations and will attend university events on behalf of the university, its athletics programs and its health care system.
“She is basically the CEO of a $5 billion-a-year organization,” Nelson said.