Officials rein in MSU trustees' lavish spending following 7 Action News investigation

EAST LANSING (WXYZ) - Michigan State University officials have implemented new rules designed to rein in the lavish spending exposed by a 7 Action News investigation. 

As we first reported in November, trustee Faylene Owen spent more than $26,000 in university money for a 10-day European trip.  Owen attended an MSU basketball game, met with students and held alumni dinners.  The trip included stays in a $1,300 a night hotel, about $3,000 in limousines and another $3,000 in stipends for her and her husband. 

Former-Trustee Melanie Foster took a university-sponsored trip to Africa to meet with alumni and potential students.  Foster's trip, which also included her husband, cost about $20,000.

Foster later reimbursed MSU for the cost of her husband's expenses once she learned we obtained a copy of her bills but, according to Board of Trustees President Joel Ferguson, Foster's trip never should have happened in the first place.

After she lost her re-election bid in 2012, Ferguson says Foster moved her trip up by two months so she could take it before her term expired.  But Ferguson says he told her not to take the lame-duck trip, since what she learned in Africa would no longer benefit MSU. Foster went anyway.  

Many trustees were furious about the costs highlighted in our report, prompting a new spending directive that bans costly hotels, limousines and cash stipends.  Going forward, all trustee trips need to be vetted and approved by the full board.

The new directive also bans lame duck trips like Foster's, too. When reached this week, Foster hung up the phone before saying whether she was asked to cancel her trip.

Maize and blue more frugal

We promised viewers we were looking into the University of Michigan's spending, too.  U of M was slower to provide their records  but once they finally did they were largely unremarkable.

"I felt all my life that I'm a steward of public resources, and I want to make sure that every dollar we spend is spent well," said U-M President Mary Sue Coleman, who says the school's frugal spending doesn't happen by accident.

The records we reviewed showed the biggest single travel expense took place last year when the school's eight regents had a retreat in California   Along with President Coleman, they spent 4 days meeting with donors and holding strategy sessions. 

Spouses of MSU officials often accompany them on these kinds of trips. But U of M's spouses stayed home.

"We had three university presidents who came to talk to the board, we had a very high level official from Google come talk about online education," Coleman said. "So I was able to accomplish in a day and a half of meetings with very high level people something that I could have never accomplished here in Michigan."

Contact 7 Action News Investigator Ross Jones at rjones@wxyz.com or at (248) 827-9466.

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