The University of Kansas has spent $3.5 million in taxpayer money flying coaches and administrators on 641 trips on mostly university-owned aircraft, according to a newspaper report.
The numbers, which the Lawrence Journal-World obtained through an open-records request, do not include flights made by the university’s medical center staff or flights taken on commercial carriers. While the university planes were bought by donors, taxpayers pay to operate them,
About two-thirds of the university’s aviation expenses covered flights by Kansas coaches and athletic administrators, but the trips were also used to recruit professors and researchers, as well as for staff to attend meetings, funerals and donor events. Kansas owns one plane and holds a 25 percent stake in another, allowing the university to share it with other customers.
While the university often used the planes to ferry large groups of staff on trips, sometimes the jets were nearly empty.
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For example, former football coach Turner Gill was listed as the only passenger on the university’s jet traveling to the Phoenix Fiesta Bowl spring seminar in 2010, at a cost to taxpayers of $19,950.
Basketball coach Bill Self is that jet’s most frequent flier, with 118 trips costing $1.2 million since July 1, 2009.
Tim Caboni, vice chancellor for public affairs, said the cost for private flights is offset by the productivity gain of having top university officials choose the closest airport and best timing for their trips, allowing them to miss minimal working time.
University officials often have to go to hard-to-reach locations in western Kansas to which direct flights are significantly faster than driving, Caboni said, and the use of private jets allows those officials to return late from trips across the country rather than wait for a commercial flight the next day.
“It doesn’t make a lot of good sense to have the chancellor, whatever her hourly expense would be, driving down the turnpike for hours at a time,” Caboni said.
But the university’s use of private jets is not the norm among its peer universities. The Journal-World contacted 16 colleges, including the 10 Big 12 schools. Only three – the University of Texas System, Texas A&M and Iowa State University – said they own planes.
Lawrence McQuillan, a senior fellow at the Independent Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, said the university was spending too much on private planes for a public institution. He said the costs don’t “advance the education mission for the University of Kansas at all.”
“Anyone with common sense would see it as imprudent and wasteful expenditures,” he said.
Kansas State University used to share a jet with its aviation program but eventually sold it, in part because of the university’s proximity to the Manhattan airport, Kansas State spokeswoman Cindy Hollingsworth said