OXFORD — Cutbacks in travel and equipment purchases combined with an efficiency study that led to an overhaul of administrative procedures resulted in enough cost savings to offset the budget cuts at the University of Mississippi this year.
Departments have put off new equipment purchases, most significantly in terms of computer upgrades.
“We are making do with older computers where in the past we would have upgraded them,” said Jeffrey Alford, Ole Miss executive director for communications. “We have made major cutbacks in travel, conferences and professional meetings that faculty and staff attend. The chancellor’s office, in particular, has curtailed receptions and social events. And we have reduced the operating hours for the university library.”
The library was previously open 24 hours per day, seven days a week. Now it is no longer open late at night on Fridays and Saturdays. And a complete study of administrative processes has cut costs while improving efficiency. The study led to changes in how accounts are handled and work is done.
“Things like that have allowed us to make some savings and become more productive, and that has helped tremendously,” Alford said. “In the past year we have instituted an online system for handling all procurement purchases, which has meant each department can do these tasks by computer and save all the paperwork and forms being passed from one office to another. We realized significant savings in areas like that even before the budget cuts came about. That allowed us to absorb them as well as we have.”
The online system has also improved morale because faculty and administrators spend less time pushing paper and dealing with tedious details, leaving more time for other more rewarding activities.
Changes in grounds and maintenance operations have also saved money. Previously maintenance workers who cut grass and maintain grounds were traveling from the physical plant to a work site in the morning, and then driving their equipment back to the physical plant for lunch before driving back to the work site after lunch. The university purchased equipment trailers to transport the machines, which allows maintenance worker to stay at the job site all day.
While budget cuts for the current year have been absorbed, there are concerns about the lack of salary increases. The possible loss of faculty as a result is a very big concern. Faculty salaries at Ole Miss lag behind other institutions in the Southeastern Conference, and are even more behind the nationwide average. He said the university competes nationwide for faculty members.
“Our salaries are way behind the rest of the country,” Alford said. “It is a strain. It makes it very hard to recruit new faculty members. This will be the second year in a row we have had no salary increases. And because faculty numbers are down, that means classes are bigger. In bigger classes each student doesn’t get the same attention that he or she would receive in a smaller class. So students will feel the effect over time.”
The decrease in janitorial and maintenance staff also takes a toll. Classrooms and other facilities aren’t being cleaned as regularly, and delaying maintenance now could result in higher repair costs in the future.
Despite concerns, officials at Ole Miss are determined not to let the budget difficulties get them down.
“We did have to give back 5% of our budget for this year in the last round of cuts,” Alford said. “We’re anticipating another reduction here any day, and the position at Ole Miss has been that we will deal with it. We’re going to go forward and make the best of it we can. This is not the time to wring our hands, cry and moan. Ole Miss has generated a great deal of momentum in the past five years, and we’re not going to lose that. We’re going to see this thing through.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at firstname.lastname@example.org or (228) 872-3457.
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