Task force gets 200 proposals for savings

The task force charged with generating $60 million through innovation and fundraising has collected almost 200 ideas from the community on how to spend smarter, but the group is still wrestling with which savings should be counted, and how.

Launched in October by University President Steven Knapp, the Innovation Task Force is designed to evaluate the University’s budget and ensure funds are being used in the most efficient ways without resorting to program cuts. The account to track the savings has not been established, Associate Vice President for Academic Operations Jeffrey Lenn said, because he and other senior officials are still discussing what money will be eligible for inclusion toward the $60 million goal.

For example, the University may make an effort to convert all light bulbs on campus to energy-efficient ones. Administrators will then have to decide between using net or gross costs – net costs is total profit minus costs for the new bulbs, while gross is the total savings without any new costs taken into account – and either count the total energy savings or the total energy savings minus the cost of the new light bulbs, Lenn said.

Lenn, chair of the task force’s steering committee, said the 200 ideas have been split between “big picture” suggestions and “department or problem-specific” suggestions. The group has begun researching and refining some of the ideas, members of the task force said last week.

“We’ve gotten ideas from across the University and a great number of the ideas have come from students,” Lenn said. “We are now asking questions from those ideas about the feasibility of getting it done. We’re doing work on efficiency, how to do it less expensively but mostly based on innovation.”

The task force’s goal is to identify $60 million over the next five years that can be continually fundraised or saved annually through a revamp of University spending. The task force is also working with the development office to find unrestricted fundraising sources to be invested into the endowment, so the yield will be available for investment into academic programs and financial aid.

Chief Information Officer David Steinour said his committee, the learning and academic focused team, has received 20 to 30 ideas, but many of them focus on ways to “spend the $60 million” rather than how to save it.

“I think a lot of the suggestions coming in are very important to the mission of the University, but many are focused on ways to spend the $60 million,” Steinour said. “In the long term, we are looking for ways to change the culture and the way we work… to raise $60 million to reallocate back to the academic program.”

Lenn noted one department that was previously renting space off campus has since been moved on campus, saving the University money in terms of rent costs. As long as the department exists, the money spent on rent can annually be used toward the academic experience at GW.

“The idea is to make sure funds are put to the best possible use. That should do three things: help us reduce unnecessary costs, help us avoid unnecessary costs in the future, and help us make sure we are spending the money we do spend as wisely as possible,” Knapp said in October. “We are still working on the specific targets and will have a much better idea of what is possible once the task force gets to work.”

In November, the University launched a Web site that gives students, faculty and staff the opportunity to submit ideas online for the task force. Lenn said about 180 of the ideas came through the site.

Additionally, more students than the original six who were selected in November have been brought on board to work with the task force, Lenn said.

These “student analysts” are helping both working committees conduct a “comprehensive quantitative analysis to see how much can be saved from each idea,” Lenn said.

Student Association President Julie Bindelglass also worked with Lenn to identify student groups – like the College Democrats and Republicans, Class Council and other religious and multicultural groups – to aid Lenn and the two working committees with feedback early on.

Prospective Presidential Administrative Fellows also submitted ideas to the task force through their application process for the fellowship. Associate Vice President for Student and Academic Support Services Peter Konwerski said current PAFs suggested having the applicants submit ideas, and that the 20 applicants submitted “creative” ideas.

“When it was suggested to me it seemed like a perfect way for us to gather some new ideas and also engage this bright, creative group of seniors who have a sense of what GW does well and what ideas can make us an even better academic institution,” Konwerski said in an e-mail. “I was very impressed with the high quality and caliber of ideas that I saw already in this first batch.”

Both working committees are now in the process of researching and looking into costs. Lenn said the priorities for the rest of the spring semester include refining ideas through input from the steering committee, top senior officials and a series of town hall meetings to be conducted in late February and early March. The town halls will be open to the community and will be a platform for the two working committees to share the ideas they think will save the most money for the University while benefiting the community most. After these town halls, the working committees will refine their ideas before submitting them to the steering committee and ultimately Knapp for review.

“All of this should be done in April as Knapp plans for implementation by June,” Lenn said.

Changing the culture of the University will not be easy, Steinour and Lenn said, but it is a vital part of the Innovation Task Force’s plan to make a “broader and better student experience,” Steinour said, adding that changing the way the University approaches these suggestions and innovation is a vital component to making GW stronger in the future.

“The biggest challenge for these committees is to get the University to think differently, to rethink the way we do everything,” Steinour said. “If we don’t change the culture and the way we think, we will have a greater challenge reaching the overall goal.”

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.