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Sunday, September 26, 2021

Regents bill university $225,000 in dinners, party expenses since 2012

BRIAN NGUYEN / AGGIE FILE

Private endowment for university business costs reimburses expensive regent dinners

Documents retrieved through a state audit of the UC Office of the President (UCOP) show that UC Board of Regents members have footed the UC with an accumulated bill of $225,0000 since 2012. On January 25, the Regents threw a party costing $17,600 amidst voting to raise student tuition.

The UCOP reimburses the Regents for the banquets, dinners and parties with private endowment funds given for university business costs by donors. Some regents disagree with billing the parties as a university business expense, such as Governor Jerry Brown and Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, who reportedly did not attend the January or May parties.

The California state audit alleges that $175 million was found in hidden funds, excessive executive salaries and misleading budget practices. The dinner expenses were discovered through the state auditor’s probing of UCOP records.

Stephanie Beechem, the officer of media relations for the UCOP, responded to the Regent dinners and the ongoing state audit allegations. Beechem explained how the costly dinners and parties are footed by a private donor endowment, the Searles Fund. She said that from now on, board dinners will be paid for by the Regents themselves, absorbing the cost.

“The Office of the President already has begun reviewing its policies governing entertainment and travel expenses as it implements the state auditor’s 33 recommendations to improve the office’s budgetary practices,” Beechem said via email. “The Office of the Secretary of the Regents aligns reimbursement policies to that of the Office of the President and will make the appropriate modification once that review is complete. Up to now, board dinners have been paid for with monies from the Searles Fund, a private endowment that the donor designated for university business costs not covered by state or tuition funds. However, to avoid any question over use of university or university-associated funds, regents will absorb their costs for board dinners from this point forward.”

Itamar Waksman, a third-year international relations major and the Internal Affairs Commission vice chairperson, voiced his disdain for the expensive dinners which have not been paid out-of-pocket by the regents. He is also concerned about how the university system levies lowering student costs with maintaining quality, public reception and accountability.

“The truth is that dinners like these will continue to happen,” Waksman said via email. “A large university system like the UC feels it needs to have events like these in order to continue to attract the administrators and other staff that make this one of the best university systems in the world. Now, this isn’t to say that the optics for this aren’t bad because they are. However, spending $225,000 a since 2012 is really a drop in the bucket. The important question to answer is how does the UC system improve its accountability to the people of California and find a way to lower costs for students while maintaining its quality? If the UC’s find a way to freeze tuition or and give more educational opportunities to disadvantaged communities in our state, then they can continue to have $250 per person dinner parties in my mind.”

 

Written by: Aaron Liss — campus@theaggie.org

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