Updated purchasing rules create savings, questions

Seán Brennan

Unprecedented spending rules for Loyola’s departments and clubs went into effect earlier this month, putting new purchasing restrictions on everything from staff meals to office supplies — changes that faculty and students will have to adjust to this semester.

On Aug. 1, Loyola’s Office of Finance and Administration released the school’s new purchasing policies, outlining the constraints that departments now have when spending university money. For the Loyola community, those rules mean no more lunches or holiday parties and limited travel on the university’s dime, all in an effort to save $5.1 million in the coming years.

The new restrictions on what can and cannot be bought with university funds are detailed on the university website, such as the decisions not to reimburse any tip over 20 percent on a food purchase by Loyola faculty, and terminating monthly cell phone plans for most faculty, as well.

The rules came after months of analysis from what is called the “Optimizing External Expenditures work stream,” headed by Robert Nelson, Director of Purchasing at Loyola.

The committee designated with creating the “work stream” was one of 14 the university created under Project Magis, Loyola’s latest financial sustainability plan, which Nelson said aims to cut unnecessary spending, increase enrollment and retention rates and introduce new academic programs to add $20.9 million to Loyola’s budget by the 2018 fiscal year.

“We found that there were a lot of ways we could spend our money more intelligently without having to cut services,” Nelson said. “An example of this is by moving from separate administration software systems in the Monroe and Law libraries to one system, which will save Loyola over $50,000 on an annual basis.”

Under Nelson’s supervision, the work stream’s goal is to save the school $5.1 million. To do this, the committee spent months analyzing expenses with over 40 Loyola faculty, staff and administration to find potential savings wherever possible.

“The main focus of Project Magis is to invest. However, as we wait for these exciting initatives to be implemented, we have an immediate need to tighten our belts. Speaking as a two-time alumnus and having worked at Loyola for over a decade, I think we are striking the right balance,” Nelson said.

David Borofsky, Interim Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs, said the immediate result of Nelson’s work stream initiatives was a budget cut of roughly $1.7 million.

“The issue really is about budget accountability and financial sustainability,” Borofsky said. “We want this place to be here for a long time, so when we give people the budget, they’ve got to manage that budget just like you manage your budget at home. We don’t have any more money sitting in a pot for when people run out.”

In accounting for department budgets, Nelson and Borofsky both cited the significant amount of money spent on business travel and food, expenses that department heads like Naomi Yavneh Klos, director of the University Honors Program, worry will affect students’ learning experience at Loyola if cut.

“Food is an important part of honors. I have spoken with the Provost and we will be able to continue the tradition of our senior lunch, where we recognize each one of our graduating students,” Yavneh said. “But we want to bring students to NCHC (National Collegiate Honors Council) and the AJCU (Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities) Honors conference, which this year is in Omaha, an expensive city to fly to but a 17-hour drive from New Orleans.”

Beyond potentially missing these events under the new purchasing policy, the University Honors Program is more significantly battling a decreased annual budget in the face of an increase in the number of honors students, resulting in certain faculty teaching seminars as unpaid overloads and every seminar above the usual maximum number of students.

“I am trying to figure out ways to be extremely frugal, but that, in and of itself, is time-consuming, especially when my attention could be better directed at advising students,” Yavneh said.

Daniela Marx, chairwoman of the Department of Design, worries that her department’s first forum, which is usually a meal to break bread with faculty and new students, will not be possible under the purchasing rules. On top of this, since the department’s office manager was let go in July’s round of faculty cuts, Marx is currently taking on the duties of the office, as well as chairwoman and professor.

“I’ve been here for 18 years and never have been told what we can or can’t spend money on. I’m a rule follower, so I’m fine with rules, but I need clarity on how to follow them,” Marx said. “Our first forum is how we bring in the new year together. It’s important to have this meal together.”

According to Borofsky, the rules are a small piece of Project Magis, which focuses on growing online programs and recreating Loyola’s continuing education program for adults, but they still need to be implemented to achieve sustainability — especially with food.

“If I told you how much time we’ve been spending talking about food, it would blow your mind,” Borofsky said. “There are some absolutes that are just not going to happen, like alcohol. We’re definitely not paying for alcohol with university money. But for the most part, we’ll loosen it up a little bit so people can spend their money the way they need to, but within some constraints.”

The purchasing rules will not affect the Student Government Association, whose funding comes directly from student fees. According to Student Government Association President Ben Weil, the cuts may be tough for some areas at first, but are necessary in the long run to get the university back on track.

For other student organizations, however, such as Loyola’s rugby club, the rules pose new questions on funding, club president Alex Li said.

“As clubs, we are already limited to apply for certain allocations. I’m not sure how these cuts will affect our team, but without adequate funding, we can’t afford to compete against other teams as much as we’d like,” Li said.

Exceptions to these purchasing policies can be applied for and signed off by the Interim Provost. Time will tell the impact of these rules as the semester gets started, with food and beverages at the front of the plate.

“We’re making sure we have the money in the right places to make sure students have the best experience possible, and that doesn’t always mean pizza and soda and water,” Borosfky said.