May 4, 2010

Cornell Hires Help to Look for Savings in Faculty Administration, Costs

Print More

In an effort to slash $90 million from the University’s annual administrative spending budget, the Initiative Coordinating Office is seeking outside assistance. Last month, Cornell hired Dick Shafer, Ph.D. ’97, a director at TruePoint consulting group, to help gauge the need for administrative support across the University by leading focus groups comprised of 120 faculty members.According to a presentation obtained by The Sun, Shafer asked participating faculty members to consider their needs for administrative support in terms of nine general focus areas: general administration, research administration, communications, student services, finance and budgeting, human resource facilities, IT, and development and alumni affairs. Participants were tasked with reflecting on how they utilize the services currently at their disposal and how mission-critical these services are.“[Shafer] has a lot of experience at Cornell,” said Paul Streeter, associate vice president of budget and planning and head of the ICO. His independence from the University, Streeter said, will “help us gain an understanding — from faculty — of what their most critical needs are from an end-user per spective.”The administration has emphasized that administrative spending cuts will not affect the academic core of Cornell. But one professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, who served on one of the focus groups led by Shafer and wished to remain anonymous, said that the faculty members in her focus group were adamant that “anything you pull away will degrade our ability to do what we do.”The evaluations conducted by Shafer are only a portion of the overall work being done by the ICO to cut costs. His findings will later be utilized by a team made up of Cathy Dove, associate dean for administration in the College of Engineering; Mary Opperman, vice president for human resources; and Peter Lepage, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.“We are not venturing into the academic realm in any way,” Streeter told The Sun, emphasizing that the results of the Shafer’s work will only assist the ICO in proposing administrative non-academic cuts. Dove further pointed out that the work being done by the ICO has nothing to do with the academic task forces that comprehensively evaluated the University’s academic operations last spring and in the fall.“The University has already reduced the size of its staff and many of those staff reductions have come from academic departments,” Lepage stated in an e-mail. “We want to hear from the faculty what services are most important to them, so that any further changes are made with the needs and priorities of the faculty in mind.”The professor, who wished to remain anonymous, felt that ultimately, Shafer’s work “could be irrelevant to moderately helpful to seriously destructive.” She described the nature of academic departments as “multifaceted” and criticized Shafer’s method of “slicing” administrative functions into finite categories. “If the implicit ideas underlying the focus group are going to implemented, it would be really bad,” the professor said, referring to the way Shafer divided up administrative support. “The idea that you could pull out IT or pull out the financial piece and do it from some central office is extremely misguided.”Shafer — who has previously worked in the College of Industrial and Labor Relations and as the associate dean for corporate relations at the Johnson School — has signed a limited term contract with the University for an undisclosed amount of money. Though there is no precise time frame for his current work, Streeter estimated Shafer will be at Cornell “for about a month” conducting focus groups.“In order to make sure faculty felt free to share their perspectives openly and honestly, we decided against using anyone currently working at Cornell,” Dove stated in an e-mail, explaining the University’s decision to recruit someone who was not a current employee to conduct the focus groups.The participating faculty members were chosen by associate deans in each of the colleges. According to Dove, focus groups are still being conducted and thus no conclusions have been drawn. Streeter, however, assured that the findings of these focus groups will not be released to the public.This is not the first time in recent months that the University has employed outside consultants to assist in its budget slashing efforts. Last fall, Cornell hired the global consulting firm Bain & Company to analyze non-academic spending and propose cost-cutting measures. The work of Bain and Shafer will help the University to cut back on and streamline its current support services and procurement needs.Streeter said that the work being done by Bain and Shafer “goes together to help inform our institutional thinking.” Neither entity will be implementing processes or dictating administrative action, he said.According to the Arts College professor, there is opportunity for growth as part of these initiatives. For instance, things like college-by-college scheduling would benefit from more centralization, she said.

Original Author: Emily Cohn