Though many faculty and staff have expressed concern with the implementation of the University’s new Shared Services Center, University officials assured faculty last week that no layoffs will result from the planned integration of human resource and financial services into the consolidated office.
From the centralized location, they will provide those services to the University at large, rather than being placed with specific departments or colleges.
In preparation for the merging of services, 50 finance and human resources positions were unfilled over the last few months, allowing the University to maintain positions for all current employees impacted by the change.
Additionally, staff members who accept similar positions in the Shared Services Center are not likely to see a decrease in their base salaries. University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said administrators completed individual meetings with affected staff members Friday.
Many of the employees affected are responsible for services like billing, employee expense reimbursements, travel benefits, vendor payments or registering new employees through Wolverine Access. Traditionally, departments or colleges have retained their own employees who handle these duties.
In the new Shared Services Center, each employee will likely specialize in one of these tasks. Each staff member would focus on one area of the shared services spectrum at a University-wide level.
The center will open in April and the remaining department-level finance- and human-resources staff will transition there by October 2014.
Fitzgerald said the University would recoup savings not only from employing 50 fewer staff members, but also by making operations more efficient, saving about $5 million during the first few years.
“As you move forward, the data indicates we’ll continue to have savings through more efficient operations,” Fitzgerald said. “By having skilled specialists in place working together, we believe we’ll continue to handle an increased number of transactions more effectively.”
The University piloted this model by centralizing services for offices in the Fleming Administration Building with no adverse effects, Fitzgerald added.
However, at the Senate Advisory Committee for University Affairs meeting Monday, faculty voiced concerns regarding the University’s handling of the change, including a University-issued gag order imposed to prevent department chairs from discussing shared services.
Fitzgerald said Friday he did not have any first-hand information to share regarding what some faculty members have characterized as a University-imposed gag order. He said the University treats every decision-making process on a case-by-case basis and the extent to which information is shared varies.
He added that he could not elaborate on University precedent or protocol related to keeping such discussions confidential.
He also noted the University has maintained a website that explains the shared services transition for months. Still, he said the University could have done better in addressing concerns earlier on.
“There’s been some level of information available, but it’s clear we didn’t communicate enough info early enough in the process to include people in the process,” Fitzgerald said.
University Provost Martha Pollack; Timothy Slottow, executive vice president and chief financial officer; and E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life, acknowledged in the statement to faculty that the University’s failure to distinctly communicate the changes and seek input from the University community.
“It is clear we were not sensitive or consultative enough in the planning and communication of this initiative,” they wrote. “We deeply value every member of the university community, and regret that the early stages of the process did not live up to our shared values.”
The administrators added that the University did not clearly articulate available support for staff affected by the transition.
“As this process has moved forward, we do now have enough information about the process to address at least a couple of the important concerns that were raised,” Fitzgerald said.
The letter stated that the University would provide training for every member who accepts a new position. In addition, the University plans to provide support for units whose relocated staff held additional duties in the department or college.
“It is true that we sometimes have to make difficult changes to continue to protect the resources that are so vital to our core academic mission, but it is our responsibility to do so in the most respectful and supportive manner possible,” the statement read.