Several weeks ago, the Dean’s Office at the College of LSA requested all departments to cut their budgets by six percent over the next three years. Needless to say, department morale is rather low.

My personal morale dropped even lower when I found out that a GSI position I had applied for appears to have been cut by LSA. I suppose I should be proud that I can save the University roughly $9,000 next term by being unemployed, but somehow the thought of being unable to pay my rent dims my enthusiasm.

But I’m being selfish, and I need to be more of team player. After all, LSA Dean Terry McDonald is a team player—he got a $63,000 raise in 2008.

Terry, you’re an inspiration for all of us. So I’m taking the torch from you and challenging my colleagues in the Department of Political Science to find ways we can cut spending and increase revenue to meet profit projections—er, educational goals— this year.

For starters, let’s start with how we allocate office space. In the Political Science Department, all GSIs get office space. But we’re only there for eight to 10 hours a day. That means that valuable space is unused more than 60 percent of the time.

That’s why I’m petitioning my department chair, Chuck Shipan, to mandate that GSIs find boarders for their offices. Think of all the students who are looking for cheap housing. Charging them $10 a night to sleep on our desks would bring in thousands of dollars in revenue per month. We could even have flexible options — perhaps a monthly discount for long-term boarders. I understand some hotels turn quite a profit — and also support local entrepreneurs — by charging hourly rates.

But more efficient use of space is only the start. We need to examine how we use department and University resources. The obvious targets are to cut copying and printing costs and make faculty and staff pay for their own staples. But these simple measures won’t close a six-percent hole in the budget. We need to think bigger.

We don’t just consume the department’s paper and staples – we wear down its floor, smudge its walls, consume its water supply and breathe its air. We need to be mindful of this consumption. One way to raise departmental revenue and help the environment would be to assess individual carbon taxes on faculty, staff and students for exhaling carbon dioxide. Professors known for their loquaciousness will be charged extra. (You know who you are.)

Or we could steal an idea from the Ohio Turnpike: toll booths. We’ll put them up in front of the elevators and department stairwells. If we charged per person, we could enhance cash flow by charging pregnant women a pro-rated toll depending on how far along gestation is. Erecting toll gates in front of the restrooms could also be a big cash earner, not to mention charging for toilet paper. Why not make it a quarter per flush? Raising the prices on feminine products might be a real revenue spinner.

Of course, these departmental ideas will get us only so far. All of us need to step up and take our share of cutbacks. Personnel costs make up much of the University’s budget. When the Lecturers’ Employees Organization starts negotiations this January, I advise them to take one for the team and be sensitive to LSA’s plight. After all, lecturers don’t need health insurance as much as administrators do, right? Please, be reasonable, LEO.

And that’s my point. I understand we need to make some cuts. But when I’m struggling to find a job and see people hurting around me – graduate students scrambling for funding, janitors paying more for their health care and lecturers waiting in vain for the University to value their services – I really don’t have much sympathy when I don’t see cuts at the top.

Come on, Political Science department, let’s do our part. Imagine how great we’ll all feel when we’re able to meet our efficiency goals and the Board of Regents approves another 20-percent raise for Terry McDonald in reward for his outstanding leadership.

Patrick O’Mahen can be reached at pomahen@umich.edu.

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