Penny Pinchers Dodge Cuts At University Of Michigan The Great Recession hit universities hard and caught many off-guard. Many are now facing drastic budget cuts. But at the University of Michigan, a culture of cost-cutting has largely spared the campus from the pain.
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Penny Pinchers Dodge Cuts At University Of Michigan

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Penny Pinchers Dodge Cuts At University Of Michigan

Penny Pinchers Dodge Cuts At University Of Michigan

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NPR's Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH: It's simple. The University of Michigan cut costs by focusing on the little things.


KEITH: Custodians like Ryan Skelley(ph) used to empty desk-side trash cans every day. Now it's just twice a week.

RYAN SKELLEY: Let's see, I think it's Monday and Wednesday I do the third floor.

KEITH: Cutbacks from trash pickups and a push to get employees to recycle more combined for some serious savings, says Richard Robben, the university's head of plant operations.

RICHARD ROBBEN: The net benefit was about 600,000 a year. Incredible. You take little things, multiply it by the size of the university, and it really adds up to big numbers.

KEITH: Terrence McDonald, dean of the College of Literature, Science and the Arts, says it started in 2002, when the university was hit with a sudden cut in state funding.

TERRENCE MCDONALD: We had to do a 10 percent budget cut that year.

KEITH: At the time he was only interim dean and he says it was an awful experience.

MCDONALD: From then on we have been very, very careful, strategic and concerned about revenue and expenditure.

KEITH: In a way you could say the University of Michigan has been preparing itself for the recession that hit in 2008 for years. McDonald is a history professor by training, but you'd think he stepped straight out of the business school with his spreadsheets and emphasis on efficiency.

MCDONALD: Colleagues say I didn't get a PhD to worry about the budget. Well, of course neither did I, for that matter. But I think we're in a moment of historic challenge, which is that both to the public and to our parents and to others we have to show an incredibly cautious stewardship of these resources. Otherwise the university as we currently experience it is not going to be the same.

REGINA MORANTZ: I want to begin by reminding you of the political backlash that I discussed last week...

KEITH: In Regina Morantz-Sanchez's Women's History class, there are no obvious signs of the campus-wide cost-cutting regime. And that's the point, says Tim Slottow, the University's CFO.

TIM SLOTTOW: We've tried desperately not to affect what a student experiences or what a faculty member experiences, but it's everything else.

KEITH: The University's health and pension plans have gotten less generous. There's a campus-wide energy conservation campaign that's saving millions. And, Slottow says...

SLOTTOW: So we used to print paychecks and we would fold them and we would put them in an envelope and we would put a stamp on the envelope and we would send it out to our 35,000 employees. Right? We no longer do that.

KEITH: Everyone gets paid electronically now. Slottow says this and other paperless innovations saves several million dollars a year. And so now, while many other universities are slashing, Michigan continues trimming one to two percent a year. And Michigan is still hiring faculty.

PHIL HANLON: Right now it's a terrific market if you're hiring people in academics.

KEITH: Phil Hanlon is the vice provost and he says the university has been able to recruit some of its top choices.

HANLON: There have been times when people on campus have been frustrated that we've maintained so much discipline, but they're not frustrated right now.

KEITH: Tamara Keith, NPR News.

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