After new changes to University policy announced yesterday, faculty and staff will have to keep a closer eye on how much they spend while traveling for business.

At yesterday’s meeting of the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs, the leading faculty governing body, Provost Teresa Sullivan presented policy changes to the Standard Practices Guide, which dictates University policy toward faculty.

The major change “suddenly” sprung on the faculty — as SACUA Chair Michael Thouless, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, described it — was a revised travel policy for University employees that will go into effect Oct. 15.

The University reimburses faculty and staff for reasonable travel and business expenses.

When the new policy goes into effect, travel expenses will be provided via per diem — a pre-determined sum of money allocated for the trip. That system represents a shift from the way expenses had been handled in the past, when faculty and staff would put in for Travel and Business Hosting Expense Report to the Provost’s office, along with receipts from lodging and transportation.

The per diem system also replaces purchasing cards — commonly referred to as PCards — that the University would issue to the frequent travelers.

With the system, employees will not need to keep track of receipts for various expenses. Instead, before employees can receive the pre-determined sums, a supervisor must approve their trip’s expenses.

Expenses that range between $5,000 and $10,000 require approval by the faculty member’s department chair or department manager. Expenditures of more than $10,000 require approval from a chancellor, vice president or dean.

Thouless, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, said the per diem concept sounds appealing.

Thouless said there is “a level at which not keeping every single receipt for every meal” is a better way for the University to do business.

But Thouless said in an interview after the meeting, that he thinks faculty members are more surprised than upset with the changes because the Standard Practices Guide with the revisions was sprung on them unexpectedly.

“Although there have been discussions about it over the past year, the SPG just suddenly appeared,” he said.

Travel policy for faculty has been a much-discussed issue of late, especially given recent fraudulent charges to credit cards distributed to often-on-the-road faculty.

Since 1995, PCards have been given to the most frequently traveling faculty. The card allowed the University to directly pay for charges, instead of reimbursing faculty on an individual basis.

Yet in the last few years, PCards have been the subject of much debate after a handful of University employees were accused of misusing their cards.

In July 2007, The Michigan Daily reported that Tommy Metty, a University maintenance supervisor, pleaded guilty to embezzlement charges for using his PCard to make purchases that totaled about $160,000. The card is not intended for private purchases, but Metty used his card to pay for motorcycle parts, a television and a digital camera.

According to the article, in 2005, a University employee used her PCard to pay for personal expenses amounting $85,200. Another employee reportedly charged $4,000 to her card in 2006.

At the meeting, Sullivan did not say previous fraudulent activities played a role in making the switch from PCards to per diem. She said, rather, financial constraints have caused the University to look at ways of cutting down unnecessary costs, and that faculty expenses are a factor into that equation.

“We do anticipate that this year will be financially challenging, and most offices have begun to make some changes,” Sullivan said.

She added at the meeting that there are “things around the edges” the University can trim, citing that her office has eliminated catering for most events — a cost-cutting measure she says saves the equivalent of three in-state undergraduates’ tuitions.

While the new policy is meant to reduce unnecessary travel costs, Sullivan said per diems will actually benefit faculty because there will be no delay in getting reimbursed, as was the case with PCards.

“Because per diem is flat, we’d be able to determine it quickly, and we’d hope you’d get your turn around very fast so that you would not pay any interest on the float,” Sullivan said.

One of the concerns raised by members of SACUA was that faculty would not be able to cover all travel expenses by per diem.

Sullivan said the new system is not intended to make traveling difficult.

“I think people are not going to find this a hardship,” she said. “We think faculty are going to be able to live with this without too much difficulty.”

Sullivan cited federal and state employees who use per diem, who, she says, find that the system works. She added that faculty who attend conferences are often provided meals and don’t need to cover additional food expenses.

— Dylan Cinti contributed to this report

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