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Community offers cost-saving suggestions

by Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu - December 8, 2008


Recycling wood chips as mulch, implementing a standard temperature in offices and classrooms, and levying a budget crisis surcharge were among the suggestions offered during a town meeting on potential cost savings, efficiencies, and revenue enhancements.

The event, organized by the CORE (Costs, Operations, & Revenue Efficiencies) Task Force, took place at the Dodd Center Dec. 3.

Two additional town meetings are scheduled for Dec. 10, 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., at the Greater Hartford Campus Library Building, and Dec. 11, 4-6 p.m., in Room 7 of the Bishop Center at Storrs.

The task force has also established a web site – http://core.uconn.edu – with information about President Hogan’s charge to the group, the principles that will guide the group’s decision-making, and a way for individuals to submit suggestions electronically. Those making suggestions may choose whether or not to identify themselves.

“We are open to any and all suggestions, long-term and short-term, big and small in scope,” said Provost Peter J. Nicholls, who is a co-chair of the task force, together with Chief Financial Officer Richard Gray and Chief Operating Officer Barry M. Feldman.

Nicholls said the committee has already received over 200 suggestions, including more than 150 from UCPEA members submitted through the union, and is working to process and prioritize them.

“The more specific you can be, the better,” said Jim Mindek, computer business operations manager, who is managing the web site.

Feldman said the committee cannot acknowledge each individual suggestion, but he expressed thanks to all who submit their ideas. He also noted that the committee is not able to comment on work conditions, wages, or benefits – issues that would require ‘bilateral understanding’ with the appropriate unions.

Feldman said more than a dozen issues have been raised regarding energy conservation. Reducing the amount of printing and mailing and automating paper-based procedures are also common suggestions.

In response to a question as to whether the budget crisis had caused a “disconnect” with the Academic Plan, Nicholls said the plan “guides the future academic direction of the University.

It is just as important, if not more important, to have plans in place in tougher times. Resource constraints may have an impact on the rate at which we achieve our goals, but priorities have been set and we need to be guided by those directions.”

The task force’s guiding principles, available on the web site, reaffirm the primacy of the Academic Plan and emphasize academic priorities.

“In making cuts and reductions, all other activities of the University, as worthy as they might be, must be considered as ancillary to the academic functions,” the document states.

Thomas Bontly, an associate professor of philosophy, commented that it is important to find ways to achieve short-term savings without damaging the long-term future.

He also suggested levying a short-term budget crisis surcharge from students, similar to the fuel surcharge airlines sometimes impose, and using that to float bonds.

Another person suggested that those applying for research grants should ask not only for the equipment needed for the project, but also for money to maintain it.

Sue Nesbitt, director of the Center for Continuing Studies, said her center runs revenue-generating academic programs for the University, and anyone who wants to develop a new program should contact the center.

Brian Wells, general manager of the Nathan Hale Inn, said the on-campus hotel could offer additional rooms to students to ease pressure on the residence halls.

It was also suggested that the University enhance revenue by maximizing the use of its campuses during the summer.

A Facilities employee suggested implementing a standard temperature in offices and classrooms, in both winter and summer.

Another recommended choosing smaller, more fuel-efficient models when new vehicles are purchased.

A member of the landscaping staff suggested recycling wood chips as mulch, and re-using items such as granite curbstones. Another suggested planting wildflower meadows to reduce the cost of lawn mowing.

The task force will provide initial recommendations to the President in January, and a full report later in the spring.

In addition to the three co-chairs, task force members include:

Amy Donahue, head of the public policy department; Gary English, Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor and head of the dramatic arts department; Michael Kurland, director of Student Health Services; Mindek; Donna Munroe, associate vice president, Human Resources and Payroll Services; George Sabo, electrical supervisor, Facilities Operations; Winthrop Smith, professor of physics and chair, University Senate Budget Committee; Lisa Troyer, senior associate to the President and chief of staff; and Melanie Savino, administrative support.

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