Dec. 8, 2008

More hand dryers, less pizza: New ideas for cost savings

Robert Barker/University Photography
Deborah Bannister, a team leader in the College of Human Ecology's business services center, attends a cost-savings forum Dec. 3, sponsored by the Employee Assembly.

A flurry of ideas emerged from two cost-savings forums Dec. 3 and 4 in the Biotechnology Building, ranging from fewer pizzas for student-faculty meetings to more repairs for greenhouses.

"The university is dead serious about using the wisdom of its community," said employee-elected trustee Beth McKinney '82, who hosted the forums. "This is a great group of minds that we have here." A previous session was held Dec. 1, also in the Biotechnology Building. The Employee Assembly sponsored all three forums.

President David Skorton initially solicited cost-saving ideas from students, faculty, staff and alumni in an Oct. 30 statement on the effects of the national economic crisis on the university community. He repeated the request for suggestions at two administration-sponsored November public forums.

At the Dec. 3 forum, Dennis Stein, Pawprint editor, suggested the university look into retrofitting bathrooms with hand dryers, which may cost less than paper towels, and make better use of the vacant first-floor storefronts Cornell owns at Sheldon Place. "It seems to me we should put more eyes on that missed opportunity," Stein said.

In the College of Human Ecology, food is often ordered for student and faculty meetings, an outlay that could be trimmed, said Deborah Bannister, a team leader in the business services center. "It's a frequent expense," she said.

Tom Romantic, a co-leader of the Campus Savings and Efficiencies Committee that is collecting and assessing suggestions, talked about creation of a "freecycle" Web site that would link people who have unwanted materials, such as desks, with others who need them. "The savings from inventory management could be huge," said Romantic, senior director of supply channel management. "For example, no one knows how many computers are on campus."

Much of the discussion at the Dec. 4 forum revolved around Cornell's preferred vendors. They offer the university discounts but are often not the cheapest source, said Beverly Gedvillas, administrative specialist in the nutritional sciences division. "I will often search especially for office supplies and find much better buys," she said.

In the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, the budget for greenhouse maintenance is "woefully inadequate," said Ken Paddock '77, a research support specialist. Some greenhouses have broken windows and flimsy, ill-fitting doors, he said, and it can take months to get them repaired. "In the meantime, all winter long the heat's going right out the window."

People would have to change their habits if the administration enacted the suggestions, but such initiatives as campuswide campaigns or competitions could help, McKinney said. "We can set up some new social norms."

Suggestions can be submitted online at http://www.cuinfo.cornell.edu/.