A Mancunion investigation into staff expenses has found that staff at the University of Manchester are using corporate credit cards at the divisive American chain restaurant Hooters, as well as on items such as clogs and bearded dragons.
Between August 2018 and August 2019, university staff spent nearly £6.7m on expenses ranging from hotel rooms, catering, and venue hire, to experiences such as Go Ape and The Crystal Maze Live, and various clothing and retail outlets.
Whilst attending a conference in Atlanta, Georgia, two members of staff used university cards at Hooters, the American ‘breastaurant’ that is famous for its scantily clad waitresses. Hooters has long been accused of sexism and objectification of women, with the ‘Hooters girls’ employed at the restaurant required to wear a uniform of a tank top and shorts, and encouraged to flirt and chat with customers. The name ‘Hooters’ is a slang term for women’s breasts.
Speaking to GQ, ex-Hooters waitress Brittanny Anderson said: “It is an entire job based on sexual harassment. You are paid to be sexually harassed and objectified. Everyone at Hooters is aware.”
When asked if Hooters is an appropriate place for academic staff representing the University of Manchester to spend university funds, a University spokesperson said: “These were for small amounts and covered two separate meals in a legitimate fast-food establishment in America whilst attending a conference.”
Jasmine Taylor, the Disability Rep of UoM Feminist Collective called the University’s response “shocking”, saying: “My personal first thoughts were how disrespectful to students that is. We as [the Feminist] Collective obviously support sex workers, but Hooters is notoriously a problematic chain of establishments with toxic and misogynistic ties.
“I am firmly of the opinion that University staff should not be representing and claiming expenses from UoM to promote the objectification of women. It’s disrespectful to the students who are directly funding their sexual consumption.”
One staff member claimed a pair of clogs on their expenses from worldofclogs.com. Others bought clothing from North Face for an expedition, and a £1,095 smart watch from Fossil for a patient-generated health data study.
A University spokesperson said that staff could only use the purchasing cards to buy clothing “under certain unforeseen circumstances”; for example, one staff member spent £115 at Uniqlo in Chicago after their luggage was delayed, and others spent £370 at North Face on “appropriate clothing” for an expedition.
Bearded dragons were bought from an exotic pet store for use in “undergraduate projects”.
University staff also spent over £1,200 at Revolution Manchester and £700 at Gorilla at Christmas parties, as well as £1,755 at the Comedy Store on a comedy night for BSc International Business, Finance and Economics, International Management, and International Management with American Business Studies. The event was put on to “try to improve programme identity and promote student wellbeing”, and was free for students to attend.
A University spokesperson said: “The University has a robust and proportionate system in place for all our staff expenses. The claims outlined by The Mancunion have all been approved and are for a range of legitimate business-related purposes. There are times when using a corporate credit card is the most efficient way to purchase goods and services.
“These include travel, attending and hosting academic conferences and events, students teaching and learning, outreach work, and carrying out and promoting our institution’s research. A significant amount also goes on staff and academic training.
“For example, a substantial total of the expenses simply went on venue hire and catering for hosting events, training and conferences. This is the case with a majority of the location and hotel claims highlighted by The Mancunion.”