Analysis shows few areas to improve University of Minnesota staffing costs

  • Article by: JENNA ROSS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 8, 2013 - 11:32 PM

The report, which is headed for legislative review, did raise areas to be studied, however, Kaler said.

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University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler

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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.

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