Nov. 20, 2008

From turning off lights to reducing paper, cost-savings ideas fill Skorton's suggestion box

More than 200 people have answered Cornell President David Skorton's call for ideas on how Cornell could streamline its operating costs. The suggestions range from simply turning off unnecessary lights to such complex processes as improving parts of the university's procurement system. Many of the suggestions are signed; others are submitted anonymously.

"These are all great ideas. People are out there seeing the potential efficiencies and sharing their thoughts" said Betsy Shrier, director of administration, communication and outreach services in the Division of Human Resources.

Skorton initially solicited the ideas from students, faculty, staff and alumni in an Oct. 30 statement on the effects of the national economic crisis on the university community. The university, he said, had set up a "suggestion box" for students, faculty, staff and alumni to submit recommendations for cost savings. He repeated the request for suggestions at two public forums, emphasizing at the Nov. 6 forum that his call for suggestions is "not to mollify you." He added, "It's because we need your ideas."

The suggestions are now being gathered, categorized and assessed by representatives from across campus, led by the Campus Savings and Efficiencies Committee, which includes Shrier.

The leading category of suggestions submitted involve energy management and conservation. One person suggested asking departments to review the use, maintenance and operating costs of freezers and refrigerators used to store research materials because some may be underutilized and can be consolidated or eliminated. The second-most common ideas involve reducing printing and paper by converting such publications as annual reports and postcard announcements to online documents and e-mails. Procurement and grounds and maintenance suggestions are tied for third.

The Campus Savings and Efficiencies Committee eventually will decide which strategies have the potential to save significant resources and can be scaled across the university. It also will assess how a strategy in one part of operations could affect others. Converting publications to a digital format, for example, might increase the load on information technology staff, Shrier said. "We'll take into account how all these suggestions are connected."

The committee plans to develop a set of cost savings and efficiency improvements, including:

By Dec. 23 the group will present its initial findings to its steering committee, led by Joanne M. DeStefano, vice president for financial affairs; Mary G. Opperman, vice president for human resources; and Paul Streeter, interim vice president for planning and budget.

After university leaders approve implementation of a suggestion, the committee will track savings. It will also publicize improvements and best practices across the campus.

However, says Shrier, "This is just the tip of the iceberg." She adds, "To quote President Skorton, 'We must work together to strengthen Cornell's financial foundation to streamline operations and to redirect resources to those programs that will contribute to Cornell's future success.'"

Other project team members and the areas they represent are: Micci Bogard, Budget and Planning; Tom Romantic, Financial Affairs; Beth McKinney, Employee Elected Trustee; Brian Cornell, Employee Assembly Representative; Mike Powers, University Communications; Anne Dunford, Endowed College Representative; and Susan Schattschneider, Contract College Representative.