Governing Body’s Spending Low Compared To Similar Groups
Posted: June 29, 2013
By EMILY SHARRER
HARRISONBURG — Gourmet meals and lavish trips don’t typically show up on James Madison University’s board of visitors’ tab, leading to a spending history more conservative than the state’s similarly sized institutions.
The university spent about $11,000 this fiscal year on meetings, officials say, a fraction of the bills reportedly racked up in past years at other schools, including the University of Virginia’s board, which has been criticized for retreats costing tens of thousands of dollars.
The amount accounts for a sliver of JMU’s overall $454.2 million 2012-13 budget. The money to cover the BOV’s meetings is part of James Madison’s education and general budget, which pays for academic functions and is funded through state dollars and tuition and fees.
“We try to be very lean in some of those administrative-related costs because our philosophy has been if you keep those costs low you’re able to invest more money into the academic mission of the university,” JMU spokesman Don Egle said. “I think this is something that is a characteristic of JMU across the board in how it conducts its business.”
The board, which is the university’s governing body, typically meets four times per fiscal year.
The cost of a one-day meeting on James Madison University’s Harrisonburg campus came to $1,916, which included lodging, meals and mileage for the 15-member board. These are the most common types of board meetings.
A two-day meeting in Harrisonburg was a little more than double that — $4,210. That amount accounted for extra lodging and meals provided to members who would typically drive back home after a one-day meeting.
About once every four to five years, the board will hold a retreat where members travel to another part of Virginia to conduct business, Egle said. This year, a two-day meeting took place at the beginning of June in Williamsburg that cost the board $5,281.
“It’s actually not that far off [from a two-day meeting in Harrisonburg],” Egle said. “Off-site meetings for organizational leadership and governing boards is relatively common in higher education, but also relatively common in other industries, especially when the agenda centers around strategic planning.”
Aside from one Maryland resident, all the board’s members live in Virginia, but only three live in Harrisonburg or Rockingham County. As a result, mileage costs are not much different when the board holds a retreat somewhere else in the state, Egle said.
While many members of state boards are wealthy, it’s customary for universities to shoulder the costs, Egle noted.
A 2012 Richmond Times-Dispatch article about spending on the part of the University of Virginia board reported the group spent more than $115,000 during the 2011-12 academic year, including money for expensive meals, luxury hotel stays and entertainment for spouses.
During the same time frame, the article reported that Virginia Tech’s board spent more than $145,000, while Virginia Commonwealth University spent nearly $48,000 on board expenses.
JMU board of visitors Rector Joseph Funkhouser did not return calls for comment Friday.