As many students took a break from studying last summer, President Jeffrey Armstrong was courting Jim Boswell, a businessman and Cal Poly alumnus. After multiple meetings, Boswell agreed to donate $8 million to his alma mater for an agricultural research facility.
The visit to Pasadena to meet with Boswell was one of the president’s trips during the 2013-14 academic year. In total, Armstrong spent almost $61,000 on travel, which is more than $18,000 above the second-highest amount spent by a California State University (CSU) president.
According to data analyzed by the Los Angeles News Group and provided by the CSU Chancellor’s Office, Armstrong spent $60,871.58 on airfare, meals, lodging and miscellaneous travel expenses in the academic year 2013-14. CSU Fullerton President Mildred Garcia was second on the list, with $42,437.18 spent.
“I was not aware of where I stood until I read that article,” Armstrong said. “(But) it’s all geared toward a positive aspect of student success.”
That said, Armstrong spent the equivalent of six students’ undergraduate yearly tuitions. He spent:
- $13,453.12 on meals
- $15,931.33 on lodging
- $20,803.80 on airfare
- $10,683.33 on miscellaneous expenses
In 2013-14, Armstrong traveled places as far away as Rotterdam and as close as Santa Barbara to meet with potential donors.
Another explanation for topping the list of CSU presidents’ travel spending brought up by Armstrong has to do with the fact that Cal Poly is a destination campus, which means it’s not easy to get to other people.
“If you look at a lot of other CSUs, their alumni base is closer, their student base is closer. They have alumni all over but we have alumni from all over the country, or around the world,” Armstrong said.
Cal Poly spokesperson Matt Lazier said the school’s elite reputation requires Armstrong to travel more extensively than presidents at other CSUs.
“The president’s travel expenses reflect his ongoing effort to build donor and industry relations to support Cal Poly’s costly technology-oriented academic programs and maintain our standing as a premiere comprehensive polytechnic university,” Lazier said in an email.
Nevertheless, some faculty members feel that this is too much to spend as a CSU president.
“I think it’s embarrassing,” said California Faculty Association (CFA) San Luis Obispo President Graham Archer. “I cannot see that it is justified.”
Archer called it “absurd” to spend more than $13,000 on meals.
Sometimes Armstrong wants to reward students for their hard work and representing Cal Poly, he said. For example, he paid to take the basketball team, coaches, stunt team, cheer team and band out for dinner after the Cal Poly men’s basketball team made it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in history.
He also paid to take 20 students to Sacramento to have awards presented to them for their accomplishments by state lawmakers at the capitol.
One of the main concerns of CFA Faculty Rights Representative Jere Ramsey is the inconsistency in the data. For example, there is travel without airfare, like a trip to Indiana. And the trips that don’t include airfare also don’t show gas expenses.
“Some of the trips don’t seem right to me,” Ramsey said.
Ramsey is not the only one who noticed found flaws in the charts. Archer also said there appeared to be inconsistencies in the data.
“There are all these trips where there is no charge for airfare, so it makes me wonder if (Cal Poly) Corporation (is) picking that part of the tab up,” Archer said. “What’s missing here?”
Armstrong said the money comes from multiple Cal Poly sources including Cal Poly Corporation, but he turns in all his receipts and he pays for his own personal travel.
“The president’s job is being external, and you can’t be a good president without travel,” Armstrong said. “But if you’re going to raise money, it takes money and you have to spend money.”
Fundraising is important, Ramsey said. But she questioned the necessity of spending more than twice as much on travel as most CSU presidents.
“I think it’s great that we do a good job raising money,” Ramsey said. “I’m not sure that state institutions should have to take out prospective donors and buy them expensive meals.”
Armstrong says the president’s travels is essential to the success of Cal Poly.
“If I stay home more, Cal Poly is going to be at a disadvantage in a competitive world,” Armstrong said. “If that’s the case, then our students will be at a disadvantage. It is contributing indirectly to our student’s success.”
It is important to create relationships with people before asking them to donate, Armstrong said.
“You can’t ask somebody for money if you don’t have a relationship with them,” Armstrong said. “People are not going to give you money if you don’t develop a relationship and if they don’t develop passion for the university and passion for what we’re doing. And the average it takes is at least seven times until you can ask for money.”
Armstrong said he expected to have spent less money in the 2014-15 academic year, since the Mustangs did not qualify for the NCAA Tournament and he went on fewer long trips.
“That is not a prize I would want to win every year, having the most expensive travel budget,” Armstrong said.