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College of Arts and Sciences

A&S Spending Guidance

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Review and Approval of Critical and Essential Expenses 

Effective April 20, 2020 until further notice.

Departments, programs, and faculty should carefully scrutinize each potential expenditure to make sure it is essential for research and teaching.  All expenditures should be reviewed and approved as follows:

  • Expenses on sponsored funds or external organization accounts can proceed as usual.
  • For all other accounts, expenses are to be reviewed and approved according to these thresholds.  This includes individual faculty research and start-up accounts.  Please include a statement of why the expenditure is essential to research or teaching.  As a reminder, provost and OVPR guidance on research can be found here.      
    • Less than $3,000 - review/approve by department manager or chair

    • $3,000 - $10,000 – please send to the BSC for approval before incurring the expense

    • $10,000 - $49,999 – please send to Dave Taylor and Rob Van Brunt for approval by your Senior Associate Dean/Dean before incurring the expense

    • $50,000+ - will require Provost approval.  Please fill out the Discretionary Spending Approval Form and email to Dave and Rob before incurring the expense


Q: May improvements to offices continue (e.g., painting, carpeting, furniture)?

A:  Financial expenditures to support a new hire are allowed, but departments should scrutinize the actual conditions to ensure work is truly needed.  For example, if the walls were thoroughly washed and the carpet extracted or cleaned, would the conditions then be acceptable?  Renovation of finishes other than to support new hires should be postponed at this time.  Renovations to support a new hire, where lab space construction is part of the offer letter, are allowed to proceed.


Q: May faculty continue to hire students or purchase books, supplies, professional memberships, computers, equipment, and similar items on their FRT, startup, and research funds?

A: Yes, if essential for research or teaching.  For professional memberships, if there is a significant savings of a two to three-year membership over a one-year membership, faculty may purchase the multi-year membership to save funds in the long-term.

Q: For new faculty hires or retention offers, will start-up and retention funds be made available?  Will moving costs still be covered?

A: All commitments and moving costs contained in new faculty and retention letters will be honored.

Q: May faculty spend funds on academic and research related trips? 

A: Currently, Cornell-related travel is restricted.  Per university guidance, “When safe travel can resume, only essential travel will be permitted, including essential academic travel, travel on sponsored research funds, travel funded entirely by outside entities and travel necessary to deliver instruction or outreach programs or to conduct essential university business. Such travel must be approved by the appropriate dean, vice president or vice provost.”  The college strongly recommends holding off on planning any travel for the next academic year until restrictions are lifted.  After restrictions are lifted, only essential travel as defined above will be allowed.

General/Computer Expense

Q: May departments and programs replace broken computers or purchase computers for faculty from College allocated computer equipment accounts (3850) on the normal 4-5 year schedule? 

A: IT purchases should be reviewed and approved by the department chair or manager on a case-by-case basis.  While regular replacement of computers generally makes sense, delaying replacement by a year for a computer that is still functioning well may be a reasonable decision.  Consult your IT staff on such decisions and for all computer orders.

Q: May departments and programs offer food or alcoholic beverages at a department meetings and functions?

A: No, food and alcoholic beverages are not deemed essential and should not be purchased on Cornell funds.  Coffee, tea, and water may continue to be provided.

Guest Speakers, Talks

Q: May departments and programs arrange for guest speakers and talks for the fall semester?

A: Given the current travel restrictions and remaining uncertainties, departments and programs should not arrange to bring speakers to campus or hold a conference event with guests from outside the immediate area this fall. Instead, we encourage planning for seminars via Zoom. If you would like to consider an exception, please consult with the senior associate dean.

For next spring, you may plan for guest speaker visits if the funding source is restricted for that purpose (e.g., a speaker series account, Engaged Cornell grant, Atkinson award, endowed lecture).  If funds are restricted, but in a general sense linked to a specific department, but not a particular activity, then the chair should weigh the importance of the event to research and teaching in consultation with the senior associate dean. 

Q: May an honorarium be offered for a guest speaker?

A: Yes, if the funding source is restricted for that purpose, but many guest speakers will agree to a lower fee or none given the current world-wide health crisis if done through Zoom. Please process these payments as a speaker fee (i.e., invoice) rather than as an honorarium.  Provide an explanation of why the guest speaker is necessary to a class or fills a necessary programmatic need. 

Prior Purchases & Travel

Q:  May invoices on Purchase Orders in place before COVID-19 be paid?

A: Yes, if the PO was in place by March 13th, invoices on the PO can be paid.  

Q: May departments reimburse guest speakers and faculty for cancelled travel?

A: Yes, if travel was cancelled due to COVID-19 and cannot be rescheduled.  If the traveler received a refund, include the communication from the airline.  The amount of the refund should not be reimbursed.


Q: May departments award student prizes or provide grants to students for research?

A: Yes, if the funding source is restricted for that purpose (e.g., a student prize account).  For use of other funds in awarding an established award, consult your senior associate dean.

Q: Who will pay the additional $456.33/graduate assistant (TA, RA, GA, GRA) this semester?

A: This additional cost will be applied to the current funding source.  If on a restricted account without sufficient funds, the cost can be shifted to another account in the department by manually adjusting the costing allocation in Workday.  If on a college allocated account, the additional charge will fall to your 4150 account.  If there are sufficient funds on that account, no further action is required.  If there are not sufficient funds, the remainder will be covered by your 3250 account at year-end.  If there are not sufficient funds in either account, Phani Love will transfer funds to your 4150 account in May.  If you will need to use your 3250 account to help fund an additional TA over your FY21 allocation, please send details to Rob.