Academic Strategy Partners Report of a Consultative Visit

February 18-19, 2013
Johann Lindig and Julie Naster
Academic Strategy Partners, LLC

This report contains conclusions and recommendations based on a review of materials shared with the consultants in advance of the site visit, and the impressions and information gained from the visit itself, conducted on February 18 and19, 2013.  During the visit, the consultants conducted 15 sessions involving approximately 75 members of the faculty, students, and staff.

The purposes of the consultation were to review the readiness and opportunities for an administrative prioritization/reallocation initiative at the University of Rhode Island (URI), and to build awareness in the community about the principles and processes associated with prioritization/reallocation of resources in higher education.

Conclusions and recommendations are discussed in the following items.

  1. Recognizing the Need for Prioritization

There was a high consensus among participants that reallocation and streamlining of administrative units and processes is needed at URI.  Reasons for such an initiative varied among participants, but included the following:

  • Long-term state appropriation declines are a constant, and can be anticipated for the foreseeable future.
  • There are practical and political limits to relying on tuition increases to offset the negative impact of declining state support.
  • Some across-the-board, or horizontal, budget cuts in the past have created inequities and risk diminution of quality for all programs if continued in the future.
  • Many processes are archaic and inefficient; while some may be driven by state requirements, there are opportunities to improve service and reduce waste through a thorough examination of existing processes.
  • PeopleSoft has been broadly implemented as an e-solution for many areas, however business processes were not widely and uniformly re-vamped to leverage the functionality of the software; numerous customizations consume limited IT resources and make upgrade implementations difficult.
  • There are opportunities for structural changes in service delivery and for uncovering efficiencies and saving money.
  • Seizing opportunities will enable a reinvestment in the University’s future, and reallocation of resources will inform budget decisions going forward.
  1. Opportunities for Prioritization/Reallocation

The University is four years into its transition under the leadership of President Dooley. He has done much to win the respect of staff and faculty; has quite successfully navigated the external challenges posed by state requirements, governance, and politics; and has set a vision and strategic plan for the institution going forward.

From an administrative perspective, President Dooley and his leadership team have recognized the importance of striving for administrative excellence (as outlined in the Academic Plan); Dr. Dooley has convened the Administrative Management Review Committee to this end. In addition to recommending efficiencies for administrative units, the Committee has also been tasked with looking at the administrative reorganization of academic structures, specifically the three health-related colleges (Health Sciences, Pharmacy, and Nursing).

Anne Marie Coleman (AVP, HR) heads the Committee. This is a challenging task. Some concerns exist regarding her time availability for the position. However, she is widely viewed with respect and credibility. She is seen as the person who can navigate the challenges that will be presented with working through change with the labor unions on campus and the process interfaces with other State entities and dynamics. There is also widespread agreement that the improvements to be targeted by administrative review are much needed.

There is a clear alignment between the President and his leadership team (the VPs) that this work is necessary. However, two vice presidents will be leaving their positions soon; these vacancies will provide an opportunity to further strengthen the leadership team. Administrative prioritization or improvement should be a key mandate for the new hires.

The Board of Governors that has traditionally guided the affairs of the University has been disbanded and is being replaced by a Board of Education that will oversee K-20 education for the State. Though there is uncertainty about the impact of this change, there was not much concern detected that things would change significantly or become more difficult as a result.

There are ample opportunities for streamlining processes and potential reallocation of resources:

  • Reengineering some processes would save precious resources and make repetitive processes faster and easier, e.g., research administrative processes, purchasing, and hiring.
  • Faculty and staff have already suggested program mergers, consolidations, and restructuring that could both yield resources for reallocation and better serve students.
  • The historic campus investments in land, buildings and programs may not bear the test of new opportunities now available to the University.
  • Opportunities for outsourcing that yields better service at reduced cost are already being thought about and identified.
  • A shared view of the opportunities for improved administration can spark new energy, resolve, and collaboration across divisions to work together for improvement.
  1. Key Issues That Need to be Resolved
    1. How will the Committee select its approach? Administrative review has been mandated by President Dooley, yet the process for accomplishment is uncertain.
      • The Committee has begun to gather suggestions from the community; this effort is likely to be useful yet insufficient.
      • The current Committee approach does not appear to be sufficiently well-designed and communicated to fully engage the entire community.
      • The Committee must thoroughly design their approach, and secure adequate resources for its success.
      • Fuzzy separation between academic and administrative topics and decisions will hinder progress (e.g., the re-structuring of the colleges being addressed by the Committee prior to key academic decisions being made).  We recommend removing the re-structuring conversation from the work of the Committee to allow academic conversation and decision to drive this activity.
      • Without a specific target and clear metrics for success, much work could be done and recommendations made without delivering commensurate results.
      • The issue of personnel positions being protected, or not, especially tenured and union positions may become a challenge
      • There is limited data that can be generated centrally, as against data that can only be generated by offering departments.
      • The commitments necessary for assurance that there will be optimum participation, involvement and buy-in to the process, its implementation, and its results.
      • The timeline and calendar of steps to be taken.
      • Administrative and IT support required to assure a successful result.
    1. How will shared governance be implemented in the design and development of the prioritization/reallocation process, viz. the Faculty Senate and the unions?
    2. What are the parameters and conditions that will guide the process?
    1. How can URI build and maintain a “culture of evidence,” where decisions are data-driven and justified by responsible criteria, consistently and fairly applied?
    2. How will communication be conducted in a way that will foster buy-in within the Community and will generate appropriate and well-timed consideration externally, while distinguishing between administrative and academic activity, and distinguishing between reallocating resources and cost cutting?
    3. How can University leadership insure follow-through on decisions that are made from the recommendations generated by the process and the Committee?

4.   Next Steps

    1. Decide which approach or approaches to embrace.
    2. Select a set of criteria that reflect the University’s goals and values.  Such criteria should be applied to whatever approach the committee selects.
    3. If Dickeson’s prioritization approach is selected, appoint a small Project Management Team that will oversee the prioritization project; assure that resources are available to ensure the project’s success; and establish University-wide ground rules, calendar and personnel assignments.
    4. Because prioritization/reallocation is a time-consuming, data-driven exercise, the University may want to consider the following:
      • Retaining a consultant to assist with necessary facilitation of the process.
      • Augmenting, through ad hoc resources, the data generation needs of the process, particularly in light of tight resources in IT and the institutional research function.
      • Suspending or materially reducing the number and duration of meetings of other committees, councils and tribunals for the year, so as to free up time for this more important activity.
      • Considering space, support and other needs required for a successful process.
    1. Complete an integrated planning process that fleshes out the existing Academic Plan in a way that addresses the entire University
    2. Appoint a key resource and supporting team to develop and implement a Communication Plan for the initiative, which should be developed in advance and executed throughout the progress of this project.