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Senator questions Leach trip to Cambodia

OLYMPIA – The chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee has some pointed questions for Washington State University about any university connections to its football coach Mike Leach’s recent trip to Cambodia.

A spokesman for WSU said Leach was traveling strictly at his own expense, as a private citizen, although staff is checking to see if he took any university-supplied equipment like a computer or a phone.

In a letter to University President Kirk Schulz, Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, noted Leach has described the trip in May in part as a way to “promote education relationships between Cambodia and WSU.” That set off a “red flag” for Ranker because that Southeast Asian country has a repressive regime that cracked down on dissent before its recent elections.

“I think it’s alarming that he be there and say he’s representing WSU,” Ranker said. “I’m not saying I have a major problem. I’m saying I have a lot of questions.”

Among those questions in the letter to Schulz were whether the administration was aware of the trip ahead of time, whether any WSU resources like phones, computers or staff assistance were used in the trip, whether he was acting as a university representative and whether there has been any increased educational partnerships.

If WSU was going to establish a relationship with universities in Cambodia, that might be something for the university president rather than the football coach, he suggested in an interview Tuesday.

Phil Weiler, WSU vice president for marketing and communications, reiterated what the university said when the news media first reported Leach joined three Republican lawmakers on a trip to Cambodia and Taiwan - that the coach was on his own.

Sens. Mike Baumgartner, of Spokane, and Doug Ericksen, of Ferndale, and Rep. Vince Buys, of Lynden, were also on the trip. Baumgartner, who said he invited Leach to come along, described the trip as an effort to increase trade with those areas.

“He wasn’t representing the university in any way,” Weiler said. WSU didn’t pay for the trip, and few people knew he was in Cambodia until reports surfaced in that country’s news media, which is controlled by the regime.

Cambodia news sites on the internet showed Leach and the legislators in meetings with Prime Minister Hun Sen and other members of his cabinet.

Staff didn’t help arrange the trip, Weiler said. Leach has not followed up with International Programs or Academic Affairs about any possible relationships with institutions.

Weiler said the university will respond as quickly as possible to the senator’s question, and likely before the end of the month as Ranker requested.

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