University of Wisconsin officials and state auditors are considering eliminating state-funded cell phones issued to UW employees in order to decrease expenses.
Other options are being explored to cut the costs of funding for employee cell phones, but if new systems cannot be developed, the cell phones may have to be cut altogether.
College of Letters and Science Dean Gary Sandefur said he understands the state’s concern and can see how the use of state-paid cell phones could be a potential problem.
“Part of the problem is the need to reduce state expenses,” Sandefur said, adding, “It is hard not to use the phone on a personal level because you may not be calling the person, but they may call you.”
Darrell Bazzell, vice chancellor of administration, said at the time the cell-phone contracts were issued, it was a “pretty good deal,” but now the university could be losing money.
“There are probably better cell-phone contracts that the state can negotiate for a better deal,” Bazzell said. “We are going to have to wait and see.”
However, Sandefur said he had not seen state-funded cell phones as a problem within his department. He said there has been only one person he was aware of within his department who used a state-funded cell phone for personal use. The individual’s abuse of the phone was short because the person gave up the phone.
Bazzell also said he was not aware of many cases of misuse of state-funded cell phones.
Most professors utilize their personal cell phones for business and personal use and do not send those bills to the university. However, Sandefur said there are a variety of situations where professors may need a state-funded cell phone, such as those who are doing research.
Currently, the state pays for about 10,000 cell phones, which totals a cost of $219,000 per month.
UW senior Sara Kanawati said university officials should be expected to use their own cell phones and not rely on state funds to pay for what could possibly be personal use.
“Professors are valuable and should be paid competitive salaries, but the state paying for professors to have work cell phones isn’t justified,” Kanawati said. “If anything, a smaller stipend would be more appropriate to cover cell-phone costs incurred while at work.”
Bazzell said to limit the costs of state-funded cell phones, a new plan would be the best option instead of completely eliminating the cell phones because it would still allow university employees to utilize the phones while saving costs.
“The best thing we can do is find a more cost-effective cell-phone plan,” Bazzell suggested.