Make your voice heard: Contribute ideas to Stanford's new Efficiency Forum

Provost John Etchemendy asks the Stanford community to focus its ingenuity and energies on increasing efficiency on campus, and to submit  – and vote on – ideas submitted online by colleagues.

Ideas already have started pouring in to Stanford's new online "suggestion box." Among them: "Have departmental retreats on campus." "Increase composting in administrative and academic offices." "Create a website to help units compare vendor costs."

The suggestion box, formally known as the Efficiency Ideas & Questions Feedback Forum, can be found at the new university website, Stanford Efficiency Ideas.

After registering, participants may post questions, suggestions and solutions for consideration by the Stanford community. The ideas will be available for everyone to read and comment on. Participants also may vote on their favorite ideas.

The top vote getter on Monday afternoon was: "Advertise in the Stanford Report email instead of sending postcards to everyone on campus."

"Though not every idea will be adopted, I promise that we will review each one and let you know its status on the site," Provost John Etchemendy wrote in an Oct. 19 email letter announcing the forum.

In the letter, sent to all faculty and staff, Etchemendy also shared some good news; the reductions in the general funds budget are largely completed.

"During this year's budget cycle, I do not anticipate asking departments to propose further cuts," he wrote. "There will be some endowment-dependent units that must make additional reductions, and while we did not reduce our generous financial aid program, we still have much to do so solve the deficit in that program. But, barring unforeseen economic circumstances, our most difficult decisions have been completed."

Etchemendy said it is time to focus the university's ingenuity and energies on increasing efficiency as it adjusts to the loss of various programs and valued colleagues.

"We must be willing to pause, reassess and ask ourselves why we do things the way we do – and whether there are better, more streamlined processes we might employ," he wrote. "We should use the opportunity of this crisis to assess, innovate and change."

Etchemedy said some functions may need to be eliminated and some processes may need to be reconsidered.

"We need to ask ourselves about everything we do in our work: Do we need to do it," he wrote. "If so, does it need to be done the same way we've always done it? Does the process have to involve so many people, so many signatures, so many steps? Or can we reorganize or reassign responsibility? Are there things we can stop doing?"

Etchemendy cited two examples of increased efficiency on campus:

  • Prior to this year, the central maintenance staff put in thousands of hours of overtime each year to handle evening and Saturday calls. By voluntarily dividing into two shifts rather than one, the staff has virtually eliminated overtime, producing an annual savings of more than $1 million. The savings will be passed on to every department that uses their services.
  • Several offices around campus have found ways to do without a dedicated receptionist and to guide clients directly to the person they need to see.

In the letter, Etchemendy also announced that he will launch several task forces to look at major functions that cut across organizational boundaries.

"For example, one will look at research support in both the schools and central offices, while another will look at information technology around campus," he wrote. "These groups will examine these functions and look for ways we can do them better and more efficiently. The goal is not necessarily to squeeze further dollars out of the system (though savings will always be welcome), but to eliminate redundancy, inefficiency and extra work that have accumulated over time."