Members of the Clemson University Board of Trustees didn't break any rules when they spent nearly $700,000 over five years on travel and events, but a new audit conducted by the S.C. inspector general concludes that the group should consider scaling back such expenses, given their role as "public servants."
The audit was prompted by a story published last year in The Post and Courier, which found that the 13-member board routinely spent thousands of dollars on meals and entertainment.
Using public records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the newspaper revealed that the group spent $6,153.17 on dinner at Cypress in Charleston during a 2011 board meeting and $7,081.57 on dinner at McCrady's during a board meeting that same year. The board spent thousands more to send its members to out-of-state football games.
Most of this money was covered by the nonprofit Clemson University Foundation and the athletic department, and did not come from the public school's general fund.
Still, the chairman of the Commission on Higher Education said at the time, "In an environment of skyrocketing costs and runaway spending in higher education, the timing of this news article could not be worse."
In the new audit, Inspector General Brian Lamkin wrote the Clemson University Board of Trustees followed its own policies, but he deemed their expenses "conservatively, 'generous' by governmental standards."
For example, he cited in the report, past and present board members received nearly $200,000 worth of accommodations and football tickets during the 2015-16 fiscal year. Those expenses were paid for by the school's athletic department.
"As a result, Clemson University, a state agency, and the CU-BoT, public servants, should consider moderating its travel and event spending," Lamkin wrote, "where the corresponding reduction of using its athletic funds and affiliated non-profit’s funds can be redirected to its core mission."
South Carolina schools have the eighth highest average tuition in the country, according to the audit.
Clemson University published a press release in response to the audit, explaining that the Board of Trustees is "pleased" with its findings. The release also explained that board members are unpaid and have contributed $24 million in lifetime giving to the university.
“The public’s trust is Clemson’s greatest asset,” Board of Trustees Chairman Smyth McKissick said in the press release. “(T)he Inspector General echoed what we as trustees are all too aware of – the value of the university’s reputation. We are constantly seeking ways to maintain and grow the public’s trust, and appreciate the Inspector General’s evaluation of the board’s spending practices.”
The Office of the Inspector General released a similar audit related to board spending at the Medical University of South Carolina earlier this year. That report, also prompted by the Post and Courier article, likewise found that board members did not break any rules, but that they should consider ways to contain costs.
The MUSC Board of Trustees has since adopted new spending limits for meals.