Report: UT Memphis Chancellor’s Spending Questioned

MEMPHIS, Tenn.

The chancellor of the University of Tennessee’s Health Science Center in Memphis is being questioned about the cost of work done on his residence, according to a newspaper report.

UT owns a $1 million Memphis home that recently underwent a $500,000 renovation but bought a second residence last August for $1.3 million after the chancellor’s wife declared the old home unacceptable.

UT can’t sell the old home until August because of a lengthy bid process, according to a report by The Commercial Appeal. The school is paying utilities and maintenance on both homes at taxpayer-expense.

The newspaper found Bill Owen, 50, has spent nearly $28,000 in improvements at the new home, which include adding a plasma TV, shelving, lighting and extensive rewiring.

Some of the costs were made outside UT’s spending procedures, and the school recently began using donor money to cover some bills.

Owen, who has a $375,000-a-year base salary and a $10,000 expense account, did not respond to several requests for comment from the newspaper.

“It’s my understanding that as the various parties looked at the house and looked at the needs and cost of repairs it was decided it was more economical to sell that house and purchase a new house,” said UT spokesman Hank Dye. “Certainly, when you make a commitment to someone you have to follow through.”

However, UT’s chief financial officer, Gary Rogers, wrote in a January e-mail obtained by the newspaper that school officials should keep an eye on the spending.

Former UT president John Shumaker resigned in August 2003 after an internal school audit questioned his extravagant spending, personal travel and lavish purchases during his 14 months on the job.

“I recently read all the materials related to the ‘Shumaker transactions,’” Rogers wrote in the e-mail. “Those are quite instructive. If you have not read them, I think doing so would give you an insight into how diligent we have to be to avoid the appearance of anything similar.”

Owen became chancellor last May, leaving his post as chief scientist for Baxter Health Care Corporation’s Renal division in McGaw Park, Ill. Owen also had been a medical professor at Duke University’s School of Medicine.

Owen’s wife, Alice, wasn’t satisfied with the old chancellor’s home and UT arranged for the state to buy the new one though she complained about it as well.

In a Jan. 3 e-mail to UT chief of staff Ken Brown, Alice Owen threatened to return to Durham, N.C. The family was “promised university housing that was not safe or livable,” she wrote, saying “promises of a decorating budget to decorate the chancellor’s residence” weren’t fulfilled.

UT learned Alice Owen hired a decorator last fall, which is against university procedure. In March, school officials requested bids for decorators.

UT recently approved using donor funds earmarked for home improvements to pay for the plasma television and the decorator bill incurred when Alice Owen bypassed the bid process.

UT also increased the home’s capital improvement budget in March to $177,000, including roughly $49,000 for operating costs like housekeeping and lawn care.

— Associated Press



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