University administration’s plans to consolidate some support services drew ire from members of the Senate Advisory Committee for University Affairs last week. As part of the University’s Administrative Services Transformation project, the University plans on bringing together human resource and financial services into one main center at the University. While University officials maintain that no firings will occur as part of the planned transition, the administration’s disregard for faculty involvement in the project raises red flags.
Under the administration’s plan, the new Shared Services Center will move human resources and financial staffs from individual departments into one centralized location. According to MLive, these positions work in “accounting, billing, financial accounts for units, expense reimbursement, benefit administration, data management, and employee time tracking.” In a letter written to University President Mary Sue Coleman on behalf of the Department of History, faculty members argue that moving the department’s financial administrators could hinder the department’s productivity: “(AST’s) short-sighted focus on task efficiency will undermine the long-term productivity that emerges from the daily personal interactions between staff, students, and faculty.”
While it’s clear that the University’s plan to integrate these services into one building is an attempt to efficiently cut costs through streamlined services, the purported financial benefits of centralizing services appears to be, at the very least, questionable. Initially, AST’s project was intended to save the University $17 million, but now is “expected to be just $5 million in four years.” Plans similar to the consolidation project have had mixed results at other universities, such as the University of California, Berkeley; Yale University; and the University of Texas system. At Texas, for instance, the consulting firm that devised the university’s shared services program cost the UT system nearly $1 million, angering staff within the Texas State Employees Union, which argued that the consultants based their restructuring recommendations based on “undisclosed research.”
Department heads were notified of this change in September with the caveat that they not discuss it with faculty and staff. Kathleen Canning, the chair of the Department of History, said the gag was unprecedented. “It’s a bit confusing when you’re a public university professor and you’re told you’re not allowed to speak (about the changes).” The limitations on deans and department heads only adds to growing concern of the University’s lack of transparency.
While streamlining services are no strangers to universities, the move to both consolidate staff members and suppress the voice of their respective departments is unprecedented. With questionable benefits and poor methods employed to reach its decision, the administration appears to have handed out a top-down order without regarding its employees. The University should not uproot its employees without, at the very least, engaging them.