Powers endorses report geared toward increasing administrative efficiency

Jordan Rudner

Stressing efficiency as a means for increasing revenue, President William Powers Jr. called for instituting cost-saving measures in administrative functions and employing University assets thoughtfully as recommended by a report on the University’s operational structure.

The report, produced by the Committee on Business Productivity, which Powers formed in April 2012, contains recommendations for optimizing finances in three arenas: administrative services, energy-producing assets and technology commercialization. The report claims that the recommendations will yield roughly $490 million for the University if implemented over the course of the next 10 years.

Among the recommendations geared toward raising revenue is a proposal to raise UT’s food, housing and parking rates, which would bring them “more in line with market values,” Powers said. He stressed that there will not be a flat increase in services applied to UT students.

“Some students need more help in their dorm rate than other students,” Powers said. “We will take into account the different needs of
different students.”

Business freshman Rachel Swaldi said she felt it was unreasonable to consider raising parking prices. “Parking is already ridiculously expensive here,” Swaldi said. “Fewer people will be willing to park here if it gets any worse.” 

Helen Smith, math and Plan II honors freshman, said she agreed that parking was expensive, but that she trusted the administration. 

“It’s important to brainstorm ways to pay for growth, so I would accept raises on parking and food, even if I would prefer other options,” Smith said.

The report also recommends consolidating several services to create a centralized administrative model. Kevin Hegarty, UT’s executive vice president and chief financial officer, will lead the eventual implementation of some of the committee’s strategies. Hegarty said combining similar positions in different departments is an example of a move that can be made to increase efficiency. 

“Implementation of shared services is a very common practice, almost a given practice in the for-profit world,” Hegarty said. “But even in the education world, where it’s not a common practice, there are other institutions that have done this. It’s leading edge, not cutting edge.”

Erika Frahm, chairwoman of the University’s Staff Council, said the long-term nature of the report will help minimize job loss as UT. 

“A 10-year slow, steady and thoughtful plan is a smart move, and hopefully not something that people are immediately nervous about,” Frahm said. “Transforming services doesn’t necessarily mean slashing and burning jobs — it just means adjusting the work we do and how we do it.”

Frahm said natural staff attrition will also contribute to a smooth transition. 

“I think our attrition rate of 4,000 jobs over the course of five years actually creates a maneuverability we need to adapt towards new and more efficient processes,” Frahm said.

In his speech, Powers also emphasized that outsourcing does not necessarily mean immediately eliminating a long list of jobs. 

“Our staff will naturally want to know, in plain English, ‘What will this mean for my job?,’” Powers said. “There is no one answer to that. For some, the answer may be that their job will remain but in a different building or with a new supervisor, or in a different structure.”

Regarding efforts toward asset utilization, the report recommended that UT consider selling surplus electricity on the open market and incentivizing deans to conserve power within their colleges.

Finally, the report recommends commercialization efforts focus on quantity and let the market decide what works.

“The committee found that the best performers were universities who concentrated their efforts on increasing the sheer volume of licenses, and did not focus on trying to prejudge which pieces of intellectual property would prove to be winners or losers in the marketplace,” Powers said in his speech.