President Elizabeth Garrett addressed Cornell staff for the first time Friday afternoon, highlighting the importance of diversity and streamlining efforts to reduce staff members’ work burdens.
Hosted by the Employee Assembly, Garrett’s address emphasized the importance of a cohesive body of staff and a multi-tiered effort to reduce unnecessary paperwork and burdensome processes. She began by thanking staff in the audience, saying, “You are not thanked often enough.”
“Your efforts support excellence in Cornell’s research, teaching and outreach, and you create an environment where faculty, students and staff together thrive,” Garrett said.
Garrett emphasized the importance of staff roles across Cornell’s campus in realizing the University’s academic mission.
“Whether we care for the campus grounds or maintain advanced research equipment, counsel students or manage payroll or process travel reimbursements, motivate donors or carry out the myriad of other ways and functions in which a research university operates, we are all engaged in the academic mission and the academic enterprise,” Garrett said. “We are all citizens of the University and contributors to that success.”
Garrett added that it was important to recognize the role staff play in daily life at Cornell.
“It can be difficult sometimes to remember how important the roles you play are, but we could not do the work — we faculty and our students — that we do without the support of our exceptional staff.”
Garrett discussed Cornell’s recent placement on the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption’s list of 100 most adoption-friendly workplaces in the United States She said Cornell has also received a Higher Education Excellence in Diversity award from INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine. Garrett said these awards spoke to the success of recent efforts to increase inclusion.
“As you know, our student body is already very diverse — racially, ethnically, socioeconomically, geographically, in their sexual identity, religion and many other aspects,” she said. “We must continue to recruit and retain the most talented faculty and staff, recognizing that that talent is increasingly diverse, and that diversity walks hand in hand with excellence.”
Garrett added that staff with a variety of backgrounds contributes to “a rich tapestry of difference” that enhances faculty, staff and student experiences at Cornell.
“Our goal should not be to homogenize, but rather to find motivation in our differences, recognizing that sometimes that can be uncomfortable,” she said. “Problems are better solved when we debate them vigorously with different points of view, and the process is enriched when those involved bring varying backgrounds, perspectives and experiences to the table.”
While Garrett encouraged staff members to pursue matters of special interest to them, she emphasized that Cornell is “in a climate of constrained resources.”
“We need to be creative in our approaches, and we can’t afford to let our processes or procedures be part of the problem,” she said.
In order to advance Cornell’s academic goals without using unnecessary financial resources, Garrett said the administration is working with staff across the University to follow a “lean-process approach,” the main goal of which is to reduce burdens that slow down important bureaucratic processes.
Provosts, deans and vice presidents will be returning efficiency assessments in approximately a month. Garrett said this assessment process is not a “once-in-a-lifetime analysis,” but a continual source of feedback and improvement.
Garrett cited several examples of times when “reducing bureaucracy” influenced work processes for Cornell staff. She said the lean process improvement initiative launched in 2013 has already yielded $2 million in savings across the University. In addition to financial savings, Garrett said many units reported increased job satisfaction and reduced stress among staff as a result of the initiative.
Garrett also said the College of Veterinary Medicine has improved 10 processes using the lean-process model, including a system for monthly invoicing. Before streamlining, the process required a staff member to spend four hours on the first day of every month creating the monthly invoice. Now, the process takes one hour or less, saving staff 156 hours a year.
Staff members, who addressed questions to Garrett both in person and via online submission, voiced concerns that “streamlining” meant potential layoffs. Garrett replied that reduction in staff size is not a goal of the lean process model she advocates.
“Streamlining is not about staff layoffs,” she said. “It’s about burden.” While Garrett said she could not guarantee there would not be “some changes in staffing,” she said the primary goal of process analysis is “making our processes better.”