Budget-crunching on for UI

BY ANNA LOTHSON | MARCH 13, 2009 7:30 AM

As the budget-crunching clock ticks away, members of the six task forces across campus are working feverishly to produce cost-saving proposals to UI administrators.

Initiated by UI President Sally Mason, the six groups will address matters both across and outside the UI campus — human resources, capital projects deferral, reducing support for nonacademic enterprises, cutting energy costs, facility and ground maintenance savings, and organizational changes.

“It’s an idea-generating process,” said Jonathan Carlson, the UI senior associate to the president.
Some people think it’s budget cutting below the radar, he said, but the goal is to simply create more suggestions for the administration to base its decisions upon.

“We can take advantage of cost-saving abilities that might not otherwise be discussed,” he said.
Carlson — who is the head of both the task force on energy savings and the one on reduction in general education for nonacademic enterprises — said the groups will not make the decisions; those will remain in the hands of the top administrators.

And on the energy side, he said, the group has received an array of helpful suggestions, including one he could foresee being implemented — reducing lighting levels in buildings.

The capital-project-deferral task force is not canceling projects, said Doug True, senior vice president for Finance and task force head, it is sifting through which ones can be postponed until after the budget crisis clears up.

The task force is looking over roughly 20 different projects, he said, and having the team address them is improving the process.

“I could have sat in my room and done this by myself,” True said, but having a broader perspective will offer a solid base for recommendations.

And the UI’s budget website is filled with many suggestions. But Scott Arneson, the associate dean for finance and facilities in the College of Dentistry — who is part of the operational-changes group — said those comments are not the driving force of their discussion.

While he personally views all the comments, he said, working on a tight timetable is an additional challenge.

“We’re looking at items that could be somewhat analyzed in a short time,” he said, and the panel members are still brainstorming to determine which projects would have an immediate effect.

The operational-changes task force is a 16-member team separated into four sections to address possible options — such as consolidating food services, a PC power-management program, Graduate College organization, redundant e-mails system, reorganizing branch libraries, and event and classroom scheduling.

From the benefits-work group, Susan Buckley, the vice president for Human Resources, said establishing an early retirement program and making revisions to the phased retirement plan are two feasible options.

“None of these are universally attractive,” she said.

But if implemented, the university would see savings, she said.

Don Szeszycki, an associate vice president in the Provost’s Office and a member on the organizational-changes task force, said one challenge is determining which projects are too complicated to deal with in a short time and which are most viable.

“We’re seeing whether or not we can do more with less,” he said.

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