On campus beat: U peels away one layer for savings

  • Article by: JENNA ROSS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 7, 2012 - 7:00 PM

The University of Minnesota is lopping off a layer of administration.

When senior vice president Robert Jones leaves at year's end to become president of the University at Albany, the university will not fill behind him. Instead, his Office of Academic Administration will be eliminated.

University leaders expect that getting rid of the office and parsing its duties will save $1.6 million. Jones' salary and benefits total $414,300 of that. Other positions will be cut. And about $500,000 will come from one-time expenses, including travel and office supplies.

Those savings will count toward President Eric Kaler's pledge to trim administrative expenses each year and his promise to cut $28 million in such spending over the next two budgets.

A task force recommended the office be cut "based on the maturity of the office's function and the University's changing culture." In short, Jones "nurtured" and "integrated" the office's units so effectively that their work can be spread out.

The office oversees the U's four coordinate campuses, Duluth, Crookston, Morris and Rochester, international partnerships and extension services, among other things.

Without it, "there's a risk that functions that have been designed to have a system-wide focus somehow get more siloed," said Amy Phenix, Kaler's chief of staff.

Campuses might also fear that they'll lose an advocate, especially in the budget-making process. But leaders will create procedures that give folks on those campuses confidence that they're being heard, said Phenix, chair of the task force.

She said that reviewing the office "gives us the opportunity to not only reduce costs but, maybe more importantly, ensure that the alignment of functions is intentional, as opposed to having grown up organically over time."

In a big, $3.5 billion organization, she noted, "the opportunity to have a blank piece of paper ... doesn't come along very often."

Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168 Twitter: @ByJenna

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