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Cutting the lines of communication: Department saves money by disconnecting phone lines

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Communication graduate student Louisa Edgerly and her office mates volunteered to have their phones disconnected in an effort to save money for the department.

Students taking classes in the department of communication might have a little trouble contacting their professors and TAs this quarter — that is, if they wish to speak with them over the phone.

The department of communication recently held a faculty meeting where it was proposed that professors consider giving up their office phone lines to cut costs.

The proposal came from faculty, staff and graduate students within the department who formed a committee to discuss ways in which the department could save money. The eradication of the phones was an idea they all shared. The idea was then proposed to professor and interim department chair David Domke.

Domke looked at the numbers and couldn’t disagree.

“We looked at our budget, and phones were one of the highest costs,” Domke said. “It’s approximately $40,000 for two years (including phone lines and hardware). If we don’t have to lay off a staff person because we cut back our phones, that’s a good trade off.”

Domke said the department has already begun to cut back in other ways, specifically paper usage, by switching to double-sided copying, minimizing the amount of inter-office paper mail being sent and urging everyone in the department to plan ahead when mailing out-of-office material so that overnight or two-day mail costs can be avoided.

Giving up phone lines is a voluntary process, Domke said. All graduate students elected to give up their lines, though two phones will remain for their use. All staff will retain their phones, as will a handful of professors.

“People in the department have varying needs for communication,” said Doug Underwood, associate professor of communication. “I’ve opted to keep my phone.”

If a faculty member decides to give up his or her office phone line, it means that personal cell phones and e-mail will become primary means of communication. Privacy issues, though, are now being called into question.

“There’s also a concern that faculty e-mails are presumed to be public record,” wrote communication lecturer Cynthia Simmons in an e-mail. “Recall that the reason that was given for Joe Knight being removed from the dean position at the School of Law was personal use of UW e-mail. Because of this, the switch may have a chilling effect on faculty speech.”

Knight was reportedly removed as dean because he was using a UW e-mail account to communicate about work he was doing for a private company.

The department of communication, along with others on campus, is still in the process of making cuts, but until the state budget is finalized later this month, there is no telling how severe the cuts will be — or whether a few phone lines will be the only sacrifice necessary.

Reach contributing writer Adam Magnoni at news@dailyuw.com.

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