UW Employees Empty Trash, Dip into Student Fund, in Order to Get Around Budget Cuts

Times are tough at the University of Washington, which like every public institution is hurting for funds. Employees are subject to an out-of-state travel freeze instituted by the state legislature. And the university has been scrimping even on bare necessities--like vacuuming the floors. So employees have been finding ways to squeeze blood from a stone. That's landed one administrator on the wrong side of state Auditor Brian Sonntag's office.

In a report released this morning, the auditor's office finds "reasonable cause to believe an improper governmental action occurred" when an associate vice chancellor at UW Tacoma went to a conference in London despite the travel freeze. Worse yet, the administrator took the money for the trip, totaling $1,200, from a fund that is supposed to be used for student services.

The report does not name the administrator, or the conference he attended. But a September article in The Ledger, UW Tacoma's student newspaper, identifies the offending jet-setter as Cedric Howard (pictured above), who heads student affairs on the Tacoma campus. The article says the overseas jaunt occurred in June of 2009.

Neither Howard nor UW spokespeople could be reached this morning for comment. The administrator has since reimbursed the school, according to the report, which makes no mention of any other sanction for Howard.

Meanwhile, other university administrators have been coming up with less sneaky ways to get around budget cuts, in particular those affecting the custodial staff, which has lost 50 positions in the last two years, according to UW director of building services Gene Woodard. As reported in the Wall Street Journal this morning, about one-quarter of the staff is now being asked to empty their own garbage pails. Administrators and faculty members in some 15 to 20 buildings--including the law school and the College of the Environment-- are now dumping their bins in central garbage cans placed on every floor.

That saves custodians time, which can be used for "more productive tasks like vacuuming, disinfecting surfaces, maintaining the hallways," Woodard says. All that has suffered due to the cuts in staff, he adds.

That appears to be one reason employees aren't complaining about having to empty their trash, according to Woodard; it's better than working in dirty surroundings. Indeed, Woodard says the law school's esteemed faculty members came to his department and asked to do garbage duty for that very reason.

The College of the Environment also requested the change, presumably at least in part because the new trash system has a green payoff. Recognizing that many people throw out only an apple core or napkin a day, the university is putting much smaller pails in staff offices. And they are not providing liners for those pails, something that is not only expected to save the school thousands of dollars a year but will mean less trash itself winding up in landfills.

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