Update on discretionary spending and business expenses

June 3, 2021

Dear Cornell Faculty and Staff,

Early in the pandemic, the university suspended all discretionary spending, along with instituting numerous other cost-savings measures, in order to mitigate the projected short- and long-term financial impacts. We are grateful to the many staff and faculty who have been diligent about safeguarding resources and have played an essential role in helping to keep the university’s finances secure throughout this period of economic uncertainty.

Neither the pandemic nor its economic fallout are over, but as national and on-campus COVID-19 vaccination rates continue to rise, there are promising signs for the health of both the overall economy and Cornell’s financial outlook. Accordingly, we have lifted the freeze on discretionary spending. However, it is critical that all colleges and units remain vigilant in their stewardship of university finances as the university must avoid returning to unsustainable pre-pandemic discretionary spending levels.

Prior to the pandemic, spending on such items as travel and food and catering had climbed steeply. While many of us are looking forward to resuming travel and meeting with colleagues in person, it is important to weigh the costs and benefits of these actions. For example, it may not be necessary for multiple individuals to attend the same conference in person, or to supply breakfast for staff meetings during regular business hours.

To help guide decision-making on discretionary spending, the university soon will be updating University Policy 3.14, Business Expenses. Once available, please review and familiarize yourself with this revised guidance, which is intended to help faculty and staff to identify the most prudent use of these funds as well as the approvals that are required prior to spending resources. Limiting discretionary spending will help to ensure that the university can invest in core priorities and constrain tuition growth, ensuring access for the best students no matter their financial need. If you have questions, please contact University Accounting.

Thank you for all that you have done, and will do, to protect our university resources.


Michael Kotlikoff

Joanne DeStefano
Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer