Type of Resource

Defining Operations

Defining Operations



The following definition has been created for the purpose of assisting department and program administrators in developing operating budgets.  Recognizing the diversity of H&S, “operations” for your department or program may be slightly different from the definition below.  This definition should be used as a guideline to help improve and maintain consistency and comparability among the School’s departments and programs. 

A task force has defined operations from the perspective of what it “is” and what it is “not”.  Specific examples are also included, but they should not be considered an exhaustive list.  At best, this definition will be fuzzy as opposed to “black and white”.  You may need to add other specific definition points for your own unit. 


Operating expenditures support the research and teaching goals of departments and programs.  They occur on a regular or periodic basis.  “Operations” should reflect robust support of your area as opposed to a “bare bones” level of activity.  It should align with your department’s mission, such as “what you do to make your program number one in the nation”.  Direct expenditures to grants and contracts are excluded from “operations”.

Operations  (examples are listed below)

Operations can also be defined as (but not limited to) the following:

  • All (or most) departments make these expenditures
    • Such as photocopying, telephone service, printing services, office supplies, fax, food/beverage (like water for the office), staff, and student employees.
  • The expenditures that are essential to the proper functioning of the department or program
    • For example, you may need to purchase specialized equipment, such as autoclaves, pianos, on a regular, budgeted, but infrequent, basis and these items are essential to carrying out your mission… and these purchases don’t exceed the “major” capital expenditure limit.  Another example might be services such as piano tuning, which are directly related to the ability to teach, but are not teaching in and of themselves.
  • Expenditures oriented to the needs of the “many/whole” as opposed to the needs of “one” or “a few”
    • A significant portion of the department or program benefits from the expenditure, such as purchasing a new photocopier or adding voicemail to the department.  By definition, this excludes expenditures supporting individual research projects.
  • Expenditures managed by the department rather than by the school or by a faculty member
  • On-going one-time expenditures that may become a part of the base budget
    • An example of this would be a fixed term position for which a request for the position to be added to the base budget will occur.

Not Operations  (examples are listed below)

  • Expenditures supporting an individual faculty member’s research
  • Grants & contracts (sponsored projects)
  • Faculty support account expenditures
  • Purchases of “major” capital assets, with “major” being defined as:  infrequent expenditures and expenditures greater than 5% - 10% of the departments total expense budget
  • True one-time expenditures
  • VPUE account expenditures (this is a structural issue since these expenditures are usually charged directly to a VPUE org series of accounts

Following is a non-exhaustive list of examples:



  1. Staff salaries
  2. Benefits
  3. Telecommunications
  4. General Office Supplies
  5. Copier paper and supplies
  6. Postage
  7. Fed Ex
  8. Photocopying
  9. Water
  10. Printing/Publications
  11. Dues & Subscriptions
  12. Leland
  13. Food, Food, Food
  14. Travel for American Econ Assoc conference/job market
  15. Facilities
  16. Repair & Maintenance
  17. Commencement – food
  18. Regular capital assets such as computers and furniture
  19. Software and Computer Supplies
  20. Servers
  21. Network
  22. Depreciation
  23. Recycling
  24. Travel – prospective students; average $350/student
  25. TAs
  26. Grad Aid Fellowships
  27. Seminar speakers:  travel, accommodations, food
  28. Replacement Teaching
  29. Searches:  Junior and Senior
  30. Teaching Supplies
  31. Health and Safety
  32. Graduate Admissions
  33. Books and Publications
  34. Staff Training and Education


  1. Prizes: students
  2. Awards: students
  3. Specific research projects