The possible outsourcing of in-house facility services was a key discussion point Thursday in a University of Idaho open forum addressing institutional budgetary woes.
UI President Scott Green said in a memo late last month that the school will seek an additional $8 million in budget cuts over the next two years as the projected revenue shortfall is expected to climb to $22 million by fiscal year 2022. The cuts will be in addition to $14 million in budget reductions UI imposed this year, which will become permanent.
Green said these cuts, while painful, will put the university in a substantially better budgetary position within a few years.
“We’re confident that, barring any recession or any cuts from the Legislature, that if we can do this, we will be out of the woods,” Green told the crowd of students, staff and faculty. “We will be balanced, we’ll have our checkbook balanced and we’ll have our reserves starting to recover.”
Much of the discussion Thursday focused on the potential outsourcing of facilities services like plumbing and maintenance that have traditionally been handled by in-house tradespeople.
Assistant professor of sociology and anthropology Deborah Thorne objected to outsourcing, saying UI is a part of the Moscow community and many city residents work in facilities. She said these are often the most vulnerable employees on staff and asked that the administration not “take the cost out of their hides.”
“Our institution is less-than if we don’t keep them in the forefront of our decisions,” Thorne said. “They are the least entitled and the least privileged people with the most to lose; if they lose that paycheck to paycheck job, they’ll be in bankruptcy. I think we have a responsibility to have the backs of the folks who bust their butts to keep this institution going. They are our community.”
Green said while UI has requested proposals from possible vendors that would take over these services, nothing has been decided. He said the administration could very well decide to forego this option, but cautioned that regardless of where the cuts come from, “this is going to be painful for all of us.”
“We’re not trying to do it on the backs of those who are the most vulnerable — in fact, in my view, we should try to protect those who are most vulnerable — but at the end of the day … we can’t do this without some pain,” Green said. “It’s just a reality — I’ll try to make the best decisions we can to have the least amount of impact with the most empathy and that’s probably the best I can say. We’ll do our best.”
As with the $14 million in cuts that were doled out earlier this year, Green said he is leaning on deans and vice presidents to identify the best ways to reduce cost in their departments and meet the target of an additional $8 million. Other measures being considered included layoffs, furloughs and salary reductions, as well as the elimination of academic programs and offering early retirement and voluntary separation incentives.
Green encouraged those who have additional input on strategies to generate revenue and achieve cost savings to submit their ideas at uidaho.edu/president by Jan. 1.
Scott Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.