UCLA Deans Spend 2 Million $ on First-Class Living; Cite Disability

Emirates Airlines First Class Cabin

I don’t like falling into the admin vs faculty dialectic. My administration may not share the perspective of an individual faculty member, but that’s by design. I trust them. I have a brother who has been the chair of a big department at a big public university and is currently an acting Dean. In graduate school, one of the most dedicated teachers I have ever met was a Dean at the time and later went on to direct a major center. The admin vs faculty dialectic does not, I think, serve to further discussion of how to fix the challenges that we do all face.

But there are problems. I’ve cited this study before, but it’s worth noting again that the increase in money spend on administration is among the factors leading to a rise in tuition.

You can’t blame faculty salaries for the rise in tuition. Faculty salaries were “essentially flat” from 2000 to 2012, the report says. And “we didn’t see the savings that we would have expected from the shift to part-time faculty,” said Donna M. Desrochers, an author of the report.
The rise in tuition was probably driven more by the cost of benefits, the addition of nonfaculty positions, and, of course, declines in state support. [emphasis mine]

Now why have the numbers and costs associated with administration risen? Some of this is regulatory – the federal government demanding new assessment regimes, for example. Other positions are discretionary, loosely covered by the citation of “best practices,” a term derided by Ginsburg in the Fall of the Faculty, the most thorough book of which I am aware about the managerial takeover of the university. One elite-university administrator adds some new officers and administrative divisions and new titles, other admins copy, then less elite universities look up to the big shots and say, “oh, these are best practices!” So they copy too.

With this in mind, I’d like to raise your outrage about practices at UCLA. This story is from last August, but it made social media rounds yesterday (I believe because it was linked to in this piece about a strike of graduate student workers which was then called off), and it raised a few issues that I thought were worth exploring.

From the Center for Investigative Reporting:

Thirteen years ago, the University of California changed its ban on flying business or first class on the university’s dime, adding a special exception for employees with a medical need.
What followed at UCLA was an acute outbreak of medical need.
Over the past several years, six of 17 academic deans at the Westwood campus routinely have submitted doctors’ notes stating they have a medical need to fly in a class other than economy, costing the university $234,000 more than it would have for coach-class flights, expense records show.

The article details all the flights and hundreds of thousands of other expenses which the deans have linked to “need.” Here are a few examples:

  • With a medical waiver granted by UCLA, however, [Dean Judy Olian] has an expense account that regularly includes business-class travel. She spends more on airfare and other travel expenses per year than any other UCLA dean or the chancellor, and she also far outpaces her counterpart at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.
  • For all six deans with medical exemptions, UCLA spent $486,000 on 130 business- or first-class airfares from 2008 to mid-2012, university records show. UCLA could have saved at least $234,000 by purchasing economy-class tickets based on an analysis of typical fares from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics and the Airline Tariff Publishing Co., which provides fare data.
  • Unredacted travel records obtained by CIR said “medically diagnosed back issues” made it impossible for Teri Schwartz, dean of the university’s School of Theater, Film and Television, to fly coach.
  • In all, UCLA paid $45,000 to book or reimburse business- and first-class flights for Schwartz from July 2009, when she started the job, to May 2012. She also used the medical note to justify flying first class on shorter flights, such as an hourlong hop from Los Angeles to Las Vegas that cost $543.
  • UCLA has paid $75,000 for premium flights for School of Nursing Dean Courtney Lyder since his tenure began in August 2008. Lyder used a doctor’s note – redacted by UCLA – to justify nearly half of these trips. Other times, he skirted the restriction because he said he needed extra rest on the plane before a busy schedule of meetings.
  • For most of those flights, Rosenstock used a doctor’s note that allowed first-class travel for flights of more than two hours.
  • After Rosenstock stepped down, her successor, Dr. Jody Heymann, quickly obtained her own medical note justifying premium flights. She has used it at least once since she took the reins in January to fly business class to London for meetings.
  • Franklin D. Gilliam Jr., dean of the Luskin School of Public Affairs, has billed UCLA for roughly $17,000 in premium airfares since September 2008, when he started the job. His doctor’s note cites a medical disability that requires business-class accommodations for extended travel – including trips to the East Coast, Midwest and Australia.
  • Gilliam also has used the note to justify using a car service. An expense report for 2009 limousine rides between Gilliam’s home and the airport said that “because of Dean Gilliam’s disability, it is recommended that he travel with business class arrangements to allow change of positions.”
It just goes on and on.
I have a close friend with fibromyalgia who travels for business. She frequently spends the extra $70 or so to get some extra legroom to keep her legs from being sore, and who would gainsay her that. I know many academics with back issues, a chronic hazard for those of us who sit too much and hunch over our keyboards (I’m leaning back right now!). There are jobs for which extensive plane travel is necessary and physically painful. I believe in reasonable accommodations for disability. I am sure some of these extra expenses are reasonable.
But I am skeptical. I am, in fact, propelled rapidly into that admin vs faculty dialectic that I find unproductive. I view these Deans as management – as executives – not as people who administer FOR the faculty but who MANAGE their instructional labor pool, cutting costs, letting wages stagnate, killing tenure-track lines, and hiring contingent faculty just below a level that might require paying benefits. THESE ARE MY OPINIONS. I could be wrong. Each one of these medical issues might in fact require business class, first class, limousine, spending the night in posh hotels rather than going home 20 miles at the end of a day, and more. 
But I am skeptical.
Moreover, the kind of abuses that I suspect are taking place here make it harder for people experiencing workplace hardship as a result of their job to receive their reasonable accomodations. Will the person who tries to just get the $70 extra legroom be denied because a Dean has been busted for flying first class? 
And so I plunge into a kind of class-war dialectic in which the academic 1% sip champagne in first class as we drink … well, I drink water most likely. Maybe coffee. My university no longer allows us to expense alcohol while on business travel as a cost-saving measure.

4 Replies to “UCLA Deans Spend 2 Million $ on First-Class Living; Cite Disability”

  1. madtruk says:

    Bravo! I recommend to all of these fine back problem suffers a standing desk, which will help solve 95% of posture-related ailments. Sadly, in the course of "sooner or later these folks will get caught out," it always seems to be later.

    1. Cordelia says:

      My husband travels for business all the time, and thus is part of a rewards club that sometimes boosts him to first or business class at no additional charge if there are empty seats. Guess what? It makes not a lick of difference to his back pains. You know what helps? Getting up and walking during the flight.

      Most people who need to stretch just ask for aisle seats.

  2. IMP at UCSC says:

    I’ve known Dean of Nursing Courtney Lyder since high school, and he has had a debilitating back condition his entire life. In fact, his back condition ended a promising early career as a dancer. I don’t know about the details of the other cases, but I think it is a shame to see such a smart and impressive person driven from university service by a scandal like this. The man is incredibly talented and dedicated to his job; the university was lucky to get him, and he will be hard to replace.

    1. David Perry says:

      Do you have evidence that he was driven from his job? That's not the press reports I'm reading.

      I'm sorry you feel he was maligned. I think I made it clear that I lacked all the details to judge each case, but that the pattern is troubling. And it is troubling.

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