During her tenure as UC Davis chancellor, Linda P.B. Katehi has flown first class, hired tour guides, taken limousines and made numerous expensive travel changes that were billed to the University of California, according to documents obtained by The Sacramento Bee.
Katehi made 26 international trips between December 2010 and February 2016, the period covered by records released this week in response to a request by The Bee. She flew to Chile, Dubai, France, Austria, Switzerland, China, Mexico, Brazil, Cyprus, Germany, Italy and Greece to attend conferences and woo donors, according to university records. She also made dozens of trips out of state.
Katehi’s international trips alone cost the university more than $174,000, according to records. Because Katehi was often accompanied by her husband and other university staff members, who filed separate expense reports, the cost was actually much higher.
It is unclear whether her travel paid off for the university. UC Davis spokeswoman Dana Topousis said there is no reliable way to track the donations generated from these trips.
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One anti-tax activist took aim at her spending. “We see travel expenses for California public officials being on the excessive side,” said Jon Coupal of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. “Two hundred thousand dollars is not chump change by any stretch of the imagination. I think this sort of establishes a pattern of conduct that taxpayers find very troubling.”
Katehi’s personal spokesman, Larry Kamer, did not return a call and email for comment.
Katehi has been on paid administrative leave since April 27 as outside investigators hired by UC President Janet Napolitano look into allegations of nepotism and misuse of student funds, and whether Katehi misstated her role in hiring online image consultants to improve the online reputation of herself and the school.
Katehi has denied any wrongdoing.
Records show that the chancellor spared little expense when traveling for UC Davis. When flying, she often accumulated thousands of dollars of charges to move up to first class, add legroom or purchase onboard internet access. She frequently rebooked flights for her convenience.
Katehi justified spending more than the allowed amount on a room in Hong Kong in June 2011 because the room within the university’s budget was too small. On that same trip, she rented a room just to hold her luggage while attending meetings with potential donors, executives and university leaders, according to the reports.
Katehi upgraded her seats to first class at least 25 times in the five years covered by the records, although Delta Airlines bumped her up for free on several occasions. It’s unclear how much the upgrades cost the university as the travel expenses often just reported the total cost of each ticket.
Travel records show that Katehi justified her flight upgrades because either the itinerary involved overnight travel or she needed room to prepare for a presentation or to conduct university business.
The UC travel policy says “transportation expenses should be reimbursed based on the most economical mode of transportation.”
“You can fly first class if you have a compelling work reason,” said Dianne Klein, University of California spokeswoman. “You have to have a legitimate reason.”
On one return trip from Vienna in March 2011, Katehi spent $224.80 to rebook a flight to avoid a leg that would have gone through Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport, where there had been delays. In June 2011, Katehi and her husband each charged $407 to their university credit cards to change flights on a trip back to Sacramento from Switzerland because a meeting was canceled and they wanted to return early to deal with university issues.
Katehi sometimes traveled with her husband, Spyros Tseregounis, as well as with other members of the UC Davis faculty. A trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to meet with potential donors and university and government officials included the chancellor, Tseregounis, a vice provost, a dean and an assistant director of UC Davis Health Systems. Katehi’s trip alone cost $8,508.22.
Coupal expressed surprise upon hearing that Tseregounis accompanied Katehi at the university’s expense.
“That is pretty embarrassing,” Coupal said. “That does not strike us as appropriate by any stretch of the imagination. I think there might be a disconnect there between what she was doing and any acknowledgment that she was a public figure spending public money.”
A spouse’s travel expenses can be reimbursed if they are doing the university’s business, according to the University of California travel policy.
One of the couple’s favorite destinations was Greece, the country of their birth. Katehi managed to bundle visits to Greece into other university business eight times during the five-year period. Twice, records show, Katehi paid for that leg of the trip out of her own pocket.
The university paid $3,385 for Katehi to travel to Greece for 12 days in 2012 to woo donors, according to her expense records. The university also paid the expenses of Tseregounis and likely for Jessie Ann Owens, the dean of humanities, although their expense records were not available at press time.
During that trip, the chancellor spent about $245 for a tour guide. The expense was justified, she said on her reports, because she was not familiar with the area and felt it would benefit the group to hire a private guide “to show them the area surrounding Elounda and to brief them on the history and architectural elements of the area.”
Katehi used the same language to explain spending 300 Swiss francs, roughly $310, on a guided boat trip of Lake Geneva in Switzerland in July 2013. During that trip to woo a donor, Katehi expensed $3,150.75 over five days for hotel rooms. The chancellor justified the cost by saying the donor chose the hotels “to show the traveler the different regions of Switzerland” and that the donor’s travel agent booked the hotels.
She spent another 520 Swiss francs, roughly $560, to stay at a hotel next to the airport so she could make an early flight.
Katehi has been under scrutiny since March, when The Bee reported she had accepted a board seat with DeVry University as it faced a federal investigation into whether it misled students. She did not receive final sign-off from Napolitano before accepting the seat, which paid $170,000 annually in stock and salary. Katehi resigned that position within days under pressure from Napolitano, Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, and watchdog groups.
The Bee also reported the chancellor had previously received $420,000 in income and stock over three years as a board member for John Wiley & Sons, a publisher of textbooks, college materials and scholarly journals. Critics said that represented a conflict because students and state leaders were seeking to reduce the cost of textbooks and use free alternatives. Katehi had permission from UC to join that board.
Other revelations have included the expenditure of at least $175,000 by UC Davis to scrub the internet of references to a 2011 incident in which campus police pepper-sprayed nonviolent student protesters, drawing worldwide headlines.