Behind the scenes at the U

Behind the students and the researchers and the labs and the projects at the University of Utah are more than 16,000 support staff who work to ensure the University of Utah runs smoothly every day.

“If the sidewalks aren’t shoveled or the Internet isn’t working or a classroom building isn’t the right temperature, it affects the university’s ability to educate and do research,” said John Nixon, chief financial officer for the U. “Our goal is to ensure that the administrative processes function as efficiently as possible so the university’s resources can be better spent on its core missions.”

Nixon joined the U last year when a new position was created to focus on optimizing resources and increasing administrative efficiencies.

The University of Utah, a $4.1 billion enterprise, restructured its debt model in 2013 – combining resources to strengthen its buying power. The change increased the U’s credit rating and gave the university access to historically low interest rates, allowing for an era of strategic physical growth.

The U is finishing its $100 million infrastructure project to upgrade decades-old utilities that will provide a more reliable framework for building growth into the future. New state-of-the-art buildings have been popping up around campus, others are being renovated to bring them up to modern standards, and there are plans to replace others.

Additionally, administrative functions across campus are being scrutinized to find opportunities to increase efficiencies. For example, a new U Shop opened in June to consolidate purchasing and provide offices and departments with the best prices.

The U currently processes more than 300,000 paper invoices annually with thousands of vendors. Through the new system, which provides users with an Amazon-like interface, it is easier to track purchases, pay vendors and allows the U to better negotiate prices and manage vendors. Once the system is fully implemented, it is estimated to save the U $8 million per year.

Similar efforts are under way with U’s Copier Fleet, a program that helps departments reduce copier and desktop printing expenses through managed print solutions, which has already saved $250,000 per year but could save up to $1 million per year once completed. The Division of Human Resources, Print and Mail Services and University Information Technology are also undergoing money-saving changes.

Environmental stewardship is interwoven into the U’s growth strategy. In 2014, the university signed on as an inaugural partner in the Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Challenge, committing to reduce building energy use by 20 percent by 2020.

One way the university is working toward that goal is by installing energy meters that allow Facilities Management personnel to track the energy use of individual buildings on campus so it can make strategic decisions about where to focus its efforts to improve efficiencies.

In addition to upgrading outdated facilities and building new ones to the highest standards, Facilities Management recently conducted a pilot program targeted at changing behaviors on campus to impact energy and money savings.

Signs were posted in the Sorenson Molecular Biotechnology Building reminding researchers to shut the fume hood when not in use. Fume hoods were targeted because they are one of the biggest energy users on campus—using as much energy as 3.5 homes. In 2014, this simple change saved an estimated $2,000 per month.

The University of Utah recently completed a capital campaign in which $1.65 billion was raised to support students, research, outreach and facilities. Another $200 million initiative to promote student success was announced at the grand reopening of the U’s historic Sterling W. Sill Center on Sept. 29. The generous donations the university receives from friends and alumni offset the cost for students.

“People are remarkably generous,” said Fred Esplin, vice president for Institutional Advancement. “For us, the magic is in connecting people to issues they care about and allowing them the opportunity to make a difference.”

In order to ensure long-term viability for the University of Utah, administration works tirelessly to see that all funds received – from donors, tax payers and from students in the form of tuition – is used judiciously to further the university’s ability to promote student success and transform lives, develop and transfer new knowledge and engage communities to improve health and quality of life.