Academic Council Hears About Impact of Cost Savings

Committee chair warns hard work remains ahead

Duke has made significant progress in adjusting its budget to the new financial climate, but more hard work in cutting costs remains, a key faculty member told the Academic Council Thursday.

"We have largely done the easy things," said Warren Grill, professor of biomedical engineering and chair of the University Priorities Committee, which reviews university finances. "We've turned down the thermostats, we're cutting the lawn less. That's the low hanging fruit. The challenges going forward are going to be more demanding. It's prudent to remain on this glide path to reach the goal of cutting $125 million."

Grill told faculty he did not expect the university would hire an external consultant to review university operations, as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has done. He said such a review is most likely unnecessary because the internal DART initiative, directed by assistant vice president Tim Walsh, is doing an excellent job covering the same ground.

"UNC spent $3 million on the Bain report. We have looked at that report closely and have benefited from it because we can take advantage of some of the same recommendations," Grill said. "My conclusion is it is not prudent for Duke to hire a comparable company, because we can learn what we need from our internal work and from studying the Bain report."

The committee is also tracking the impact economic measures are having on the campus. In the classroom, Grill said he wanted to see if the reduced number of faculty hires will have ramifications for schools that attempt to increase revenues by adding students.

The committee also is following the administration's pledge to focus cuts in non-academic areas. Grill said the committee is collecting data on the work by central administration units to ensure their priorities are in line with the university's strategic plan.

One consequence of budget cuts is faculty will notice changes around Duke facilities, Grill said.

"The early retirement program had a disproportionate impact on people who work in facilities management, a unit that affects the quality of your work," he said. "Director John Noonan has been charged with delivering services with less people. They have gone through in great detail plans to reduce costs and done a good job, but that means your office won't be as cleaned as frequently, the garbage will be emptied less, you'll see more litter outside and the grounds will be mowed less."

In the question period, Professor of English Karla Holloway asked Grill to track whether any future layoffs coming from budget cuts disproportionately affect minorities.

Grill also was asked about a column earlier this week by Duke cultural anthropologist Orin Starn saying the university could no longer afford to subsidize a big-time athletics program at a time when academic departments are making significant cutbacks.

Grill said the committee has extensively reviewed athletics. The program has a budget of a little more than $60 million and receives a $14 million university subsidy, half of which goes toward scholarships for the students in the program.

President Richard H. Brodhead said the athletics department has adopted a budget approved by the Academic Council last year when it endorsed the department's first-ever strategic plan. He said the university would continue to discuss the role of athletics at the university: The annual report of the Athletics Council will be submitted in January to the Academic Council.