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Missouri lawmaker targets university travel expenses

“I’ve had people call me anonymously and say that the university is flying wives and husbands of employees across the country on education junkets,” said Rep. Caleb Jones, a Columbia Republican. “I don’t think that’s a good way to use our taxpayer dollars.”
“I’ve had people call me anonymously and say that the university is flying wives and husbands of employees across the country on education junkets,” said Rep. Caleb Jones, a Columbia Republican. “I don’t think that’s a good way to use our taxpayer dollars.” Missouri House Communications

A Republican lawmaker from Columbia is seeking a ban on Missouri universities paying travel expenses for the spouses of employees.

Rep. Caleb Jones said he has heard complaints about the practice in recent months. When he sought information from the University of Missouri in Columbia, he said, he came up empty-handed.

“I’ve had people call me anonymously and say that the university is flying wives and husbands of employees across the country on education junkets,” Jones said. “I don’t think that’s a good way to use our taxpayer dollars.”

The legislation got a hearing last week in the House Emerging Issues Committee. With a little more than two weeks left before the legislature adjourns for the year, Jones said he will try to add the bill as an amendment to other legislation that is further along in the process in the hopes of getting it across the finish line.

“We need to fix this,” he said.

Jones said he was open to amending the bill to ban all travel reimbursement for non-employees.

No one testified in opposition to Jones’ bill during the committee hearing.

John Fougere, spokesman for the University of Missouri System, said the system’s policy states that reimbursement of expenses for non-employees is made when the travel is necessary and of benefit to the university.

“In general, necessary would mean the spouse’s presence is expected or customary, and benefit to the university means their presence helps further the mission of the university,” he said.

Christian Basi, spokesman for the University of Missouri in Columbia, said that while expenses may look as if they are being paid by the university, many times the actual funding comes through grants or from a private company.

For example, Basi said a professor might have a contract with a private company for research or technology development.

“It is not unusual for the company to invite the professor to their headquarters to discuss the research or business,” he said. “If the company has a contract through the university, the reimbursement money for the travel could be routed through the university. It is during these trips that companies might invite a spouse to attend, but that is paid by the company, even though the funds might be routed through the university.”

The University of Missouri has repeatedly faced criticism from state lawmakers following student protests last fall. The state’s $27 billion budget originally cut the university’s funding by more than $8 million. The budget cut was eventually reduced to $4 million.

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