Initiative challenged by faculty petition

By Jennifer Calfas, Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 24, 2013

University faculty have created a petition against the University’s proposed Shared Service Center an open letter to University President Mary Sue Coleman and University Provost Martha Pollack.

The consolidation of services is a cost-saving measure that will create a centralized location to transfer 275 departmental human-resource and finance from many departments sometime next year. Since the beginning of November, administrators have received a slew of letters from University departments concerning the Shared Services Center, which is a part of the Administrative Service Transformation project.

The Shared Services Center is expected to save $5 million to $6 million annually in an effort to help reduce up to $120 million in costs over the next five years, according to estimates by the University. The new center will be located close to the University’s Wolverine Tower building on South State Street near Briarwood Mall.

The savings from the center will be directed toward making college more affordable for students, according to the University. The University hired Accenture, a major consulting firm, to implement the shared services — a contract valued at $11.7 million.

Engineering Prof. Fawwaz Ulaby organized the petition, in which 842 faculty signatories claim the AST model is flawed due to its focus on decreasing administrative costs without considering the toll it will have on staff productivity. Notable signatories include former University President James Duderstadt, several former deans and several former department chairs, among others.

Ulaby said the AST model is “one model fits all,” and the goals and functions of each department differ too much to work efficiently in a centralized location.

The petition reiterates concerns expressed by University departments in multiple letters sent earlier this month to administrators, which include concerns about the lack of consultation while developing the process and the program’s overarching effect on low- to lower-middle-income women.

The petition lays out the downfalls of the AST model, which include six key consequences of the center.

The petition argues that faculty productivity would be reduced by 10 to 20 percent, because the model would make faculty perform clerical tasks usually performed by support staff, such as making copies for class and arranging meetings. Additionally, the interface would be replaced by e-mail and web communication.

“The centralization approach doesn’t work, and we need to achieve the same cost-saving role we support but by having every unit develop its own strategy it fits the character, style and every way they do business,” Ulaby said.

Additionally, the petition claims a 10-percent reduction in faculty productivity would result in a decrease of research funding. It proposes an alternative model called Unit-Centric Services, which involves a more decentralized structure with specific departmental committees to develop higher productivity, and thus higher revenues, although other universities have adapted to the centralized model proposed by University administrators.

If implemented, UCS proposes that the dean of each school or college create a 10-person committee of faculty, staff and administrators to put in motion a strategic plan for the general fund budget established by the central administration. Similar to how the Medical School develops its own financial savings model, this alternative places more trust in the individual school departments.

The petition also alleges that the use of the consulting firm Accenture is in opposition to the University’s values and goals.

“The University is not a corporation; it’s an academic institution,” Ulaby said. “Trying to convert it to a corporation is detrimental to its mission.”

In an interview with The Michigan Daily on Friday, Provost Pollack said the University used Accenture to help aid the decision-making process and create the organizational structure of the Shared Services Center. Although the petition criticizes the University for using an outside contractor, Pollack said the University only hires an external consulting firm when necessary.

Historically, Ulaby said the administration has communicated with the faculty well when implementing new policies or procedures. Though the administration sent concerned faculty an e-mail apologizing for the flawed decision-making process on Thursday, Ulaby said the statement was not enough to solve the issue at hand.

“It’s not just the process that’s flawed; it is the essence of AST that is flawed,” Ulaby said.

Pollack said the e-mail apologized for inaccuracies in the decision-making process and facts presented to the faculty.

“We recognize the concerns when there’s a lot of inaccuracies and we want to make sure they understand the points and we aren’t making the decisions based on inaccuracies,” Pollack said.

The signatories wrote that the administration has two options: to implement AST against their will, or to create an approach similar to UCS.

“We implore that you follow the judicious path,” the letter stated. “Restore sanity to the University of Michigan, which we all love and feel proud to be a part of, and allow us all to work together to make our great university even greater and more productive.”

At the end of the petition, several faculty members gave testimonials supporting the letter’s contents.

“As it is, I average 70 hours a week, and I can’t take on the additional five hours imposed by AST,” one testimonial said. “More than likely, in future semesters, I will stop making myself available to students on a daily basis, and will limit myself to the three hours designated as official office hours for the course. The obvious consequence for students is long lines and long waits.”