Fast Times at UTA

Ryan Amacher says he's leading the University of Texas at Arlington into a glorious future. But his critics fear his passion for pomp and party will run it into the ground.

University of Texas at Austin President Robert Berdahl spent $171,380 on entertainment last year. Liquor charges could not be broken down separately from the total, says UT Austin spokesman G. Charles Franklin.

And, in December 1994, Amacher spent $39,000 entertaining holiday guests.
Amacher shrugs off the complaints about his increased spending. "It's what universities do," he says. "If you are going to have important people contributing, you have to have events--entertainment, food, refreshments. That's the world we live in. We do nice things. We don't do extravagant things."

Increases in travel have also come as a shock to a university used to the home-bound habits of Wendell Nedderman, who spent $9,183 on travel between 1989 and 1991. Last year alone, Amacher spent $33,447 on travel--arranged by his personal special events coordinator, a former Clemson administrative assistant. UT El Paso President Diana Natalicio spent $14,852 on travel last year. University of Houston President Pickering spent $12,816 on travel last year. During the fiscal year 1993-1994, UT Austin President Berdahl spent $37,115 on travel.

Much of the travel, Amacher argues, is to meet potential benefactors and to carry on the networking necessary in the academic world. "I don't see it as an expense," Amacher says. "I see it as an investment."

In April 1993, Amacher spent four days in New Orleans at UTA's expense attending the Final Four, even though UTA's basketball team was not in the tournament. Amacher, a basketball fan, has attended the competition regularly for years.

When UTA system accounts payable clerk Rita Walsh noticed the bill, she kicked the $1,516 charge back to Amacher, explaining that state funds don't pay for attending athletic events. But Amacher fired off a memo to UTA Business Manager Barney Stanley, explaining that he had gone to New Orleans to "promote UTA, engage in discussions with other Presidents, Athletic Directors....about future events at UTA. Attendance at the final four was incidental to these other functions." Payment was approved.

Last Christmas, 14 school employees, including Amacher, B.J. Skelton, and Dalmas Taylor, flew to Honolulu between December 26 and January 1 at UTA expense to attend a basketball tournament in which UTA was a participant. Amacher's and Taylor's wives also attended along with two other administrators' wives and the basketball coach's son. A third wife, did not attend the trip, according to Jeff Rodgers, assistant to the athletic director, but her ticket and hotel had already been paid for when she could not go. According to documents provided by the university accounting office, Amacher and his wife used frequent flyer miles to pay for their tickets and charged the university $958 for hotel rooms. UTA paid for Provost Taylor and his wife's tickets and rooms at a total of $2,932. "We were told to add the Taylors on," says Rodgers, who arranged the tour.

The team and administrators stayed at the Hilo Hilton in Hawaii and Rogers says the hotel charged per occupant--spouses did not stay free.

Accounting records show the university paid $1,072 for Dalmas Taylor's wife's air fare to Hawaii and $394 for three nights stay in a hotel room. UTA also footed the bill for $3,208 for airfare for the three administrators' wives and the basketball coach Eddie McCarter's son. UTA also paid $1,576 for hotel room charges for the four.

As of press time--despite the Observer's repeated requests during the last three months for records of reimbursement by family members--neither the business office nor Rodgers was able to provide proof they had indeed reimbursed UTA.

Although Skelton has said in other press reports that several employees who stayed over after the tournament paid their own expenses, records indicate that employees did charge many of their expenses to the school. Rodgers and Cathy Beene, associate athletic director, charged $1,235 in an additional travel tour package that Rogers says was hotel fare for three days. According to Rodgers, the two stayed over to scout hotel rooms for the women's volleyball team which was scheduled to play in Hawaii later. American Express credit card charges show $1,417 in additional hotel, food and car rental expenses on Skelton's card for staying over in Hawaii between January 1-4, 1994. Skelton was out of town and could not be reached for comment.

Total cost for the junket for the 14 UTA administrators and their various family members: $25,000.

In July, 1992, just weeks after Amacher's arrival at UTA, he formed a search committee to find a new athletic director. UTA had limped along for five years with only an interim director. The position, obviously, is crucial to Amacher's plans for athletics.

As required by law to meet minority hiring practices, the committee placed ads for the position and set a deadline for August 31, 1992. One of the applicants was B.J. Skelton, who was vice provost and dean of admissions at Clemson.

The screening committee received almost 80 applications and had narrowed it down to six candidates on September 3, 1992. The short list did not include Skelton. For one thing, Skelton didn't meet the minimum requirement of "five years demonstrated administrative experience in an athletic program environment." Members of the search committee did not return calls from the Observer.

Amacher sent the short list back to McCallum the next day with a hand-written note: "I would also like to meet with the committee late next week as I have a few 'secret candidates' or perhaps better called non-candidate candidates."

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