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Ex-IUP leader raked in perks

Paul Peirce
| Sunday, Aug. 15, 2010

When a beleaguered Tony Atwater walked away from the president's job at Indiana University of Pennsylvania this year, he had racked up significantly more in taxpayer-paid expenses in the past five years than any of his statewide peers.

An analysis of presidents' expenses at the 14 Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education schools showed Atwater, the highest-paid president at the system's largest school, spent nearly 34 percent, or $167,000, more than anyone for food, travel, lodging and housekeeping expenses.

During the five years, Atwater spent:

• $149,700 for food, lodging and travel, including $12,000 for trips to Vail, Colo.; San Francisco; and Montreal for events sponsored by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, of which he is now a senior fellow, and unspecified amounts for trips to three posh Pennsylvania Society events in New York City.

• $343,943 for residential and house-cleaning costs, including $4,867 for an irrigation system and $16,687 for brickwork, both for his garden.

Bloomsburg State University President David Soltz and former President Jessica Kozloff had the second-highest expense total with $326,177. Bloomsburg is the system's fourth-largest school with 8,855 students.

At the bottom of the list was Clarion University President Joseph Grunenwald with $65,884. With 7,100 students, Clarion is the 11th-largest school.

On June 30, Atwater, 58, left IUP and his $289,507 in salary and benefits for a yearlong appointment at the Washington-based association.

Numerous phone messages seeking comment from him were not returned.

Atwater's departure occurred less than six months after faculty members served him with a no-confidence vote, claiming their faith had eroded because of his "imperialistic leadership style" and questionable decision-making.

Soon after his departure, IUP officials announced cuts in jobs and expenses necessary to overcome an $8 million deficit for 2010-11.

State oversight

One public policy expert says the spending gap between Atwater and other presidents should have been examined by state officials.

"You would think it should have raised eyebrows somewhere along the way," said Nathan A. Benefield of the Commonwealth Foundation, a Harrisburg think tank.

Some of the 14,310 IUP students facing a 4.5 percent tuition increase for the school year wonder why Atwater was permitted to spend so much.

IUP senior Alyssa Stiles, last year's student government president, is outraged by his spending, particularly because she's going into debt for her education.

"It makes me upset because they're cutting budgets elsewhere, and I think they've lost a sense of priorities," Stiles said.

Francisco Alarcon, vice president of IUP's faculty union, said he was not shocked that Atwater's spending exceeded that of other presidents.

"Oh, yes, we were aware of his spending," Alarcon said.

"I can't help but question the arrangement that allows a university president to seemingly overspend, in the public eye at least, without anyone taking notice until after they have left their post," said student government President David Bivens. "One would think regular audits, spending limits or a set budget would take care of these problems before they arise."

There is a review process is for the presidents' expenses, according to state officials.

The presidents submit travel vouchers and receipts to controllers for review, said state system Executive Vice Chancellor Peter Garland.

Expenses are reviewed by state system auditors, independent auditors and the state Auditor General's Office, Garland said.

State higher education system spokesman Kenn Marshall said there are limits on personal expenses.

"For example, if you go out to dinner for a university-related event, and you choose to have a glass of wine, you cannot expense the alcohol," he said.

Top travel perks

Dining, travel and lodging were favorite perks for many of the presidents.

Again, Bloomsburg's Soltz and Kozloff were second to Atwater in that area with $121,639 for the five-year period.

At the bottom of the list was Kutztown's F. Javier Cevallos, who spent $348. Kutztown is the system's third-largest school with 10,393 students.

Kutztown spokesman Matt Santos said most of Cevallos' travel is covered by private funds from the Kutztown University Foundation, a nonprofit organization that raises money for the school.

"The decision to utilize the foundation for travel was made a few years back and has been proven to be an effective funding method for him," Santos said.

Records show Soltz traveled in May to Poland to speak at an international conference and discuss setting up an exchange program. A year earlier, he traveled to Russia at the invitation of the Moscow Finance Academy, which offers a dual-degree program with Bloomsburg, said university spokeswoman Rosalee Rush.

"These trips play an integral role in establishing BU's global curriculum and expanding exchange opportunities for BU students," Rush said.

Among the most expensive trips was a $4,424, 10-day excursion to Udaipur, India, in November 2005 by Slippery Rock University President Robert M. Smith.

Smith received an honorary doctorate and was recognized at a ceremony celebrating an exchange with Rajasthan Vidyapeeth University.

"In order to establish relationships, you sometimes have to travel there," Smith said. "You just can't send an e-mail and expect to build relationships.

"Imagine you're a student's parent, and we tell you we want your son or daughter to spend a year in India. ... We better darn well know what we're sending them into, and have experienced it ourselves," he said.

Home, clean home

IUP ranked at the top in spending to maintain the president's home.

Most of the IUP expense — $207,777 — was to support a full-time cleaning person for the two-story brick home in a wooded area along University Drive.

"Unlike other presidents, Atwater insisted on having an individual designated to clean his residence instead of sharing staff like the others. But since he's left, that position has been consolidated into the rest of the staff. That expense was $30,000 to $40,000 a year," Alarcon said.

Marshall said the staffer did not maintain Atwater's living quarters.

"I believe at Indiana, that (cleaning person) was not responsible for the Atwaters' second-floor living quarters. The first floor, where they held public receptions, is considered a public building," he said.

Among the Atwaters' other residential expenses during five years were:

• $5,934 for master bedroom/bathroom window treatments by Cindra's Feathered Nest in Indiana;

• $2,222 in bathroom accessories from Rustic Acres Furniture in Indiana;

• $10,172 for floral decorations.

East Stroudsburg's Robert Dillman was second-highest in the home maintenance category, spending $269,124 in five years, including $125,500 for a roof replacement in 2006. The school is the system's 10th-largest with 7,234 students.

Thirteen of the 14 schools have free-standing presidential houses.

The exception is California University, where Angelo Armenti and his wife live in an apartment in the school's South Hall, an administration building connected to Old Main, which houses his office.

"The apartment on campus is more than enough for my wife, Barbara, and me. It places us near the center of campus and keeps us in touch with students," Armenti said.

"It's not uncommon for students to stop by, and we enjoy these informal visits. Also, we love living in a historic building, one of the originals on the Cal U campus," he said. "We wouldn't have it any other way."

IUP's Stiles wishes Atwater would have followed her lead when traveling.

She traveled to Harrisburg four times a year to meet with student presidents from the other state schools. She tried to be frugal with her travel money, which came from student activity fees, by finding inexpensive hotels and eating at Sheetz.

"I knew the rest of the money could be spent better elsewhere," she said.

Jennifer Reeger contributed to this story.

Additional Information:

Severance package

After five years on the job, Indiana University of Pennsylvania President Tony Atwater departed with a severance package worth no less than $335,000.

He will receive:

• $253,622 for one year's base salary

• $22,760 in retirement contributions

• $58,302 for unused vacation

• $972 for unused holiday pay

• Reimbursement for health insurance premiums through the federal benefit program known as COBRA until June 30, 2011

• As much as $15,000 in moving expenses, for which he must produce receipts

The agreement prohibits Atwater and state system officials from commenting on the severance package beyond its release under a Right to Know request.

Nathan A. Benefield, director of policy research for the Commonwealth Foundation, a Harrisburg think tank, was critical of the 'no comment' terms of the package.

'It seems odd to have that kind of language specifically placed into an agreement with a state board,' Benefield said. 'It's unusual, and it certainly is detrimental to government transparency to the people who have to pay the tab.'

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