When Timothy White took over as chancellor of the California State University system we were pleased. As chancellor at UC Riverside, White had earned a reputation as a straight-shooting, students-first kind of guy. Quirky enough to appear on the television show "Undercover Boss," yet establishment enough to rise through university ranks.
White took the reins during trying times, and there is much to do. Cal State has long been an insular, none-of-your-business type of operation. Its first response is to circle the wagons and protect its own. That strategy is admirable -- heroic even -- for a football team or a fighting force defending Earth from space invasion, but it is not so desirable for public institutions.
That's why we feel it is important how White responds to a 2012 internal audit released on Wednesday that significantly questions travel expenses for one of the system's employees.
To this point, White has been unimpressive, but there is still time.
The audit questions travel expenses by an employee of the system's Risk Management Authority, which is in the Long Beach office. It said the employee ran up more than $158,000 in travel expenses during a 27-month period from July 2010 to September 2012.
The audit revealed a pattern of overnight stays in places such as San Francisco (82 trips?), St. Louis and New York that left no time for actually conducting business in those cities. It also flagged frequent limo rides and valet services and what it termed excessive lodging costs at hotels in London and Tel Aviv. And, of course, we can't forget our favorite: the tour of a giraffe center in Kenya. The mind boggles at a university system's "need" for such expense.
While the audit says that the suspect employee remains on the payroll, it does not name the employee. So far, neither has White. That is disappointing because not only does it smack of the old way of doing business at Cal State, it also casts aspersions on all eight people in the Risk Management Authority when only one is criticized. Protecting the one at the expense of many is difficult calculus to follow.
The university did say that the Risk Management Authority is responsible for assessing risk in educational programs around the world, making international travel part of the job. It also said the employee had made some reimbursements.
White acknowledged "an inappropriate use of dollars by an employee" and said, "We will review our travel policies and practices to minimize any possibility of recurrence."
We expect more, especially from White. To set a new tone, White should order a full examination of the massive system's travel expenses. After making those results public, he should endeavor to establish powerful protocols that protect the students and the taxpayers from further waste.