My obsession with insane accounting procedures and regulations is continuing unabated. I admit that I have not sought professional help for it, and writing about this problem in my blog has not helped much either because it has made me realize that other people have these same problems, and that is more scary than comforting.
It is tempting to write about the fact that at the moment I am totally unable to figure out, owing to accounting glitches, how much money I have in my grants or the fact that the online effort certification system seems to have gone berserk, but instead I think I will rant about another accounting issue that makes me want to gnaw off my eyebrows: getting reimbursed for a professional dining experience that involved no consumption of alcohol.
I could just as easily write about an annoying accounting issue regarding being reimbursed for a professional dining experience that involved consumption of alcohol, but I will leave that for another time.
Today I certified for the THIRD TIME that a meal, in which I took a visiting department seminar speaker to a small local restaurant for a casual dinner with one of my graduate students, involved no consumption of alcohol.
I don't really care that much about getting reimbursed for this small sum, but it is customary for faculty who volunteer to take department visitors to dinner to be reimbursed up to a certain reasonable amount. If alcohol is consumed, the faculty host must pay for the alcohol and must provide a separate itemized receipt.
It would have been totally fine with me if the visitor had wanted a beer or glass of wine or even a bottle of wine or 7 martinis.. whatever.. But the visitor did not want such things. The small local restaurant did not provide an itemized receipt, and I did not request one. I think it is quite obvious from the low amount of the bill for the meal that the only way we could have purchased alcohol with the meal is if we each only had a small bowl of iceberg lettuce for dinner.
The accountant refused my reimbursement request because I did not provide an itemized receipt, but said that if I wrote in an email message that I certified that no alcohol was consumed, I could be reimbursed. I wrote back and said "No alcohol was consumed."
A week later another accountant called me and said that I had to certify again more specifically that no alcohol was consumed as part of this meal and that I did not have an itemized receipt because I neglected to ask for one. I wrote in an email "No alcohol was consumed as part of this meal. I neglected to ask for an itemized receipt."
Today an accountant stopped me in the office and made me write on a piece of paper "During the dinner on DATE with VISITOR X, no alcohol was purchased as part of the meal. The receipt provided does not include any payment for alcoholic beverages. I neglected to ask for an itemized receipt." SIGNED FSP (in my best, most legible handwriting).
I asked if I should also write that I am very very sorry, that I admit that I showed a shocking level of negligence in failing to obtain the correct type of receipt, that I will try hard to get an itemized receipt next time whether or not alcohol is consumed, and that I will be willing to swear on a stack of accounting bibles that I did not purchase alcohol as part of the meal in question. The accountant thought about this for a moment and then said that it probably wasn't necessary to do those things yet and he would first try getting my signed letter past the next level of accountants.
That's nice, but aside from wondering whether academic accounting attracts insane people or makes them insane, what is it with this obsession with alcohol?
I can maybe see why the department might not want to pay for an alcohol-soaked dinner extravaganza involving consumption of many bottles of expensive wine and whiskey or whatever, but seriously.. Why are US universities so neurotic about paying for a visiting professor to have a glass of wine at dinner? I think it is bizarre, but it is by no means the most bizarre aspect of academic life.
6 months ago