Eastern imposes temporary spending freeze

Eastern has issued a temporary hard spending freeze on all purchases effective immediately Thursday morning.

In an email sent to all account managers, Purchase Card holders and OfficeMax users, Eastern President David Glassman said the reason for the freeze is a result of the uncertainty that the state will pass a budget.

“Since we don’t know whether a budget will be passed or whether a stop-gap appropriation will be made if there is no state budget, the university has to be very conservative in our spending,” he said in an email to the News, directing further questions to Paul McCann, vice president for business affairs.

McCann said at this point the university is trying to stop people from purchasing anything.

“Right now we’ll have to wait and see exactly how this works out,” McCann said. “Certainly, we don’t want to bring the university to a standstill. We need to stop accumulating supplies and materials for the future.”

McCann said he does not know yet how much this will save the university as the spending freeze is more about controlling when the university spends money.

Because the university does not have a budget, it has to be more strategic about its finances, McCann said.
He said departments have been trying to spend the rest of the money in their budgets before the fiscal years ends for things such as paper, office supplies or computers.

In the past, the university has implemented “soft freezes” where it has told people to spend as little as possible.

“Here, we’re telling them not to spend at all,” McCann said.

Any exceptions to this hard freeze will need approval from the Office of Procurement, Disbursements and Contract Services or McCann himself.

McCann said he does not know what could be exceptions at this point.

“I will take these on a case-by-case basis and try to be as consistent as I can,” he said.

If the spending freeze continues into next week, Gary Bulla, the department chair of biological sciences, said it would affect research projects that are taking place right now and going into the fall.

“We weren’t doing much spending right now, so it doesn’t have much of an effect right now,” Bulla said, “But starting next week, faculty with research money might be affected and that will hinder research spending.”

The risk of a budget freeze means the department might have to stop research projects all together, he said.

Certain faculty members, like professor Thomas Canam, have the ability to spend money to replenish supplies for current research projects and fund future ones.

There are currently more than 20 research projects in biological sciences happening over the summer.

“Having a research experience is a part of the nuts and bolts of the university and despite the budget we still push that on our students,” Bulla said.

Almost 60 students are involved in research projects every semester.  Although there are some projects that are inexpensive, others require more spending,which poses a problem for the department.

As a result, Bulla said faculty members have to do the best they can, even if that means working on a dime to produce projects for students.

Aside from the actual research project, Bulla and Canam said another major blow to the department is the freeze in travel expenses.

Bulla said when students piece together all the data they discovered from their research, they present it at different conferences.

“It’s a big component in the research aspect and when it is prevented they are missing an essential component,” he said.

Canam had a female student who went to present her findings in Florida, but had to fund the trip herself.

“We couldn’t help (her),” Canam said.

Bulla said even though students may not know how much the budget impasse affects them at the moment, they might have a sense of things when they notice something is not going the way it is supposed to.

“It just hurts, you know, when we can’t deliver everything we want to deliver,” Bulla said. “We can’t even spend a couple of hundred (dollars;) we just don’t have it.”

Bulla said he hopes not being able to use the purchase card does not affect spending for classroom supplies.

As for the future, Bulla said the department does not know what will happen especially since they did not anticipate this hard freeze happening.

“We just need something,” Bulla said. “Anything, a stop gap, a budget just something.”

Other academic departments have also been leaner with their purchases because of the previous past soft freeze of spending.

Mary Harris, office manager for the psychology department, said the department has not done any real purchasing unless an item is absolutely needed.

For items not explicitly needed, the question before purchasing them has been if the department really needs it, or if it can do without it, she said.

If the department can hold off on making these purchases, it does.

“(With) pencils, pens, something like that, if we have them, we use them until they run dry,” Harris said. “That way we’re more efficient.”

Like the biological sciences department, in psychology, professors wanting to travel do not get reimbursed.

“It has to go out of their own pocket,” Harris said.

Harris said the department does not normally purchase anything in the month of July, meaning the now-instated hard freeze of purchases has not impacted supplies yet, though it could for the future,

If professors needed toner for their printers, for instance, they would not be able to purchase it during the hard freeze, but other than that, a lot of things are already in place to start the school year, Harris said. 

Paper and toner are the biggest expenses in the department, Harris said.

Not having these supplies could make a difference when professors go to print items such as syllabi.

Harris said while there is the option to put these items online, that would put the expense of printing on the student.

“If need be, once the freeze lifts, we’ll seek permission to order more (supplies,)” Harris said. “We wouldn’t want to abuse it, of course.”

In Housing and Dining, director Mark Hudson said they are waiting on purchasing things in a way that will not have a negative impact on students.

“We’re doing that all the time, making sure we’re spending money economically when money is tighter of course, we spend less, hold off on things,” he said.

Hudson said there have been a number of situations where Housing and Dining has been more prudent, spending money in a way that reflects what the campus cash flow is.

However, he said certain necessities are still being taken care of.

For example, the university is contractually obligated to provide food to people staying on campus this summer for camps and conferences so they will continue to buy food to make sure this service is taken care of, he explained.

“I don’t see this as being a big issue, it’s just a matter of a timing thing right now, we’re just going to stand by and get back to taking care of business,” Hudson said.

The News Staff can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].