Office of the President

May 1, 2009

Your ideas for saving money and finding efficiencies


Dear Faculty, Staff, and Students:

Over the last several months, people from across our campuses have submitted many valuable cost-saving suggestions to help our University weather the economic downturn. I am deeply appreciative of all those who have taken the time to share their thoughts and ideas. I write now to update you on the actions we have taken in response to these thoughtful suggestions.

I received many suggestions related to energy savings, ranging from turning off unneeded lights to converting campus buildings into energy sources by adding solar or green rooftops. All of these ideas are now with our Finance and Facilities offices undergoing feasibility study and cost-benefit analysis. Those that we can implement — in addition to our already robust energy savings program — we will. Not only will we save money, we will help the planet.

There also were a number of innovative ideas related to waste reduction and process improvement. While suggestions were again forwarded to appropriate departments for review, I am very pleased that some of these ideas are already being implemented. For example, you may have noticed a marked increase in University communications coming to you by e-mail. This has decreased the amount spent on printing, paper, and mailing hard copy documents and publications for many units. Others continue to look into what they need to do to convert to electronic forms and record keeping. I am confident that we can find many more opportunities to reduce our publications and printing costs while still communicating effectively.

Unfortunately, no amount of turning down the lights or eliminating paper copies will make up for the budget cut we must take. Since the great majority of our state budget involves people and jobs, that is, unfortunately, where we must look for reductions. Human Resources received many suggestions seeking to preserve positions through such means as salary reductions, furloughs, reduced schedules, shortened work weeks or work year, and job sharing. Each option has been considered and thoroughly analyzed from both a policy and a financial perspective.

Among the most common suggestions was for the University to require an across-the-board salary reduction for all staff or to institute a mandatory furlough program, requiring everyone to take a specific amount of time off without pay. While these are sensible suggestions — and they indeed may work very well at other institutions — they are not well suited to the UW’s diverse and complex organizational and budgetary structures.

The University, of course, is made up of many different units, each with its own unique mission and mix of funding sources for salaries. Many of these funding sources — including grants, contracts, gifts, discretionary funds, and the like — are not connected to our state budget. Further, some units are self-sustaining and fund salaries from the revenue they generate. Instituting an across-the-board pay cut or mandatory furlough scheme would adversely and unnecessarily affect positions not funded by state dollars while doing nothing to help solve our budget dilemma. Moreover, the University has many contractual commitments to funding agencies and partner institutions to deliver specific programs and projects. Across-the-board actions would make it impossible to meet these obligations.

Although these types of across-the-board measures may not be suitable at the institutional level, colleges, schools, and departments nevertheless are encouraged to explore cost savings within their units through reductions in work shifts or schedules. We believe that the unit level is the best place to determine how a reduction in hours would affect operations and to develop staffing plans that would allow them to continue the work most critical to their mission while discontinuing activities deemed less central. I am encouraging administrators to look into these options, but to recognize the limitations inherent in these approaches.

Another intriguing idea suggested by concerned faculty and staff is to set up a payroll deduction charitable contribution to a UW program, including their own departments. The deep and selfless generosity evidenced in this suggestion says a great deal about our community, and it is greatly appreciated. The UW Foundation is able to set up giving programs that allow faculty and staff to voluntarily contribute a portion of their salary to their own department. Departments that wish to explore a voluntary payroll-deduction giving program should contact the UW Foundation directly at or 206-685-1980. Such contributions will not replace the state budget cuts required of departments, but they can bolster department finances and be used to help support departmental salaries.

Your ideas and suggestions are very helpful, and I urge you to continue to bring them forward by e-mailing them to We have only begun the process of managing the budget cuts, and the more good ideas we receive the better. Dealing with the uncharted waters of our new budget realities will take an enormous amount of energy and commitment, and I thank all of you for standing by the University during this difficult time.



Mark A. Emmert