A new look at the University of Minnesota’s administration spotlights few areas that could be tightened. Whether that will satisfy legislators will be seen next week.
“This is not the silver bullet,” U President Eric Kaler told the Board of Regents on Friday. “It calls out areas in the organization that need to be examined, and we will do that.”
Legislators will review the consultants’ report in higher education committees Monday and Tuesday. It’s unclear whether the analysis — of about 600 positions — will assuage concerns about costs, which intensified when the Wall Street Journal used the university as an example of administrative growth.
“The question is: Does this put to bed the Wall Street Journal article?” said Rep. Gene Pelowski, chairman of the Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee.
The university hired New York-based Sibson Consulting to analyze its layers of administration employee by employee.
The first report — covering human resources, finance, information technology and purchasing — shows “few areas that require attention” but says the U “could improve” its staffing per supervisor.
In finance, supervisors have an average of 3.9 people reporting to them, while information technology supervisors had an average of 9.5. Human resources came in at 4.9. Supervisors in purchasing had the lowest average: 3.6.
Information technology’s number indicates that the office is “operating for effectiveness,” said Kathy Brown, vice president of human resources.
In its work with other universities, Bain & Company has recommended that supervisors directly oversee seven or more employees, the report says. U officials will scrutinize supervisors with few employees reporting to them, Brown said.
Supervising too many people could be problematic, too, Brown said. For example, one administrator in information technology oversees 38 people.
The report also includes some salary data: In finance, supervisors make up 27 percent of employees and about 38 percent of payroll. Average salary for a supervisor in that office: $103,000.
Here too, information technology looks to be the leanest of the four groups. About 10 percent of that office’s employees are supervisors, 15 percent of the office’s payroll. On average, those supervisors make $110,000.
Up next: the rest
Sibson will expand its study to the rest of the U’s management for a report this summer.
Senate leaders requested the analysis in January after the Wall Street Journal reported that the U had the largest share of employees classified “administrative” of 72 research universities across the country. Kaler has said that report lacked good data and context.
In his proposed budget, Gov. Mark Dayton made his funding hike for the U contingent upon this mid-March report. He was “pleased with the report,” said spokeswoman Katharine Tinucci. So his supplemental budget, coming next week, will include the $80 million increase he had proposed earlier.
The U has hired Chicago-based Huron Consulting Group for the second part of the Senate’s request — to compare the U’s costs and operations with other public and private organizations.
The U is paying Sibson $48,000 for its work. Officials expect to spend $495,000 more for the cost comparison, the report says. Pelowski, DFL-Winona, questioned that price tag: “You’re going to spend half a million dollars more to tell you something you should already know?”
‘Foot on the gas’
Regents on Friday praised the report, as well as the work Kaler has done to streamline the U. “We know, and the president knows ... we still have significant opportunities for improvement,” Regent David Larson said. “But ... we have made some significant improvements.”
Reforms will require “tough decisions,” Kaler said, which will be made “in a transparent and fair way.” But he doesn’t want to spend several years on that process, he said. “We will put our foot on the gas.”
The University Libraries recently undertook a workforce analysis as part of a reorganization shifting its focus from books to content and technology. Before, nearly two-thirds of supervisors had fewer than five employees reporting directly to them. By restructuring, they cut that group by 43 percent, while also reducing the number of supervisors. Before, 20 supervisors oversaw just one employee. After, 10 supervisors did.
University Libraries had made $3 million in cuts over three years, “so leading up to the reorganization, we had already done a lot of trimming,” said Prof. Wendy Lougee, university librarian. Former supervisors were retrained to work in new areas.
“We said at the outset that we’re not doing this to cut costs,” she said. “We’re doing this to put our resources in the right places.”