University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler presents new report on administration

  • Article by: JENNA ROSS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 12, 2013 - 11:32 PM
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Eric Kaler

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University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler is at the Capitol this week with “the report everyone’s been waiting for,” as one legislator put it.

In meetings Monday and Tuesday, Kaler presented the report on staffing in four administrative offices, saying it shows “a good organization with room to improve.” Amid concerns that the university may be too top-heavy, Senate leaders in January requested a “data driven” analysis of its administration, with an interim report due mid-March.

“People have said to me, well, did the U do what you asked?” said Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, chairwoman of the Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee. “Absolutely, you did.”

Lawmakers had hinted that the report could sway their stance on the university’s request for a $91.6 million bump in state funding over the next two years.

“We will never rest in striving to make the University of Minnesota as efficient and effective as it can be,” Kaler told them Tuesday.

Members of the Senate committee asked Kaler about the report’s details but didn’t offer praise or criticism. Meanwhile, leaders of the U’s clerical union said the new analysis reveals bloated administrative ranks.

The university hired New York-based Sibson Consulting to analyze the so-called “spans and layers” of its administration. Its first report — on human resources, finance, information technology and purchasing — shows “few areas that require attention” but says the U “could improve” staffing per supervisor.

The U’s average in those four offices falls below a standard set by Bain & Co. that supervisors ought to directly oversee seven or more employees.

Managers in purchasing had the lowest average number of employees reporting to them: 3.6. Information technology had the highest: 9.5.

While U leaders, including the Board of Regents, have described the findings as mostly positive, leaders of AFSCME Local 3800 took a dimmer view.

The report “confirms what we have been saying for years,” Cherrene Horazuk, president of the group representing the U’s clerical workers, said in a statement. “The university has a problem with top-heavy management.”

In his presentation to the Senate committee, Kaler said it’s clear the university has “work to do.” U leaders will examine managers with one or just a few employees reporting to them to see if that structure makes sense.

Too many employees reporting to a single manager can be worrisome, too. Republican Sen. Eric Pratt said he was “a bit shocked” to see a supervisor in information technology with 38 subordinates and asked why.

The U has not yet dug into that kind of detail, Kaler said. “But I can tell you we’re going to ask the question.”

Since his first day on the job in 2011, Kaler said, he has been working to streamline the university and make it more nimble. He enumerated changes, including consolidating more than 70 independently run IT help-desks into “a single point of contact.”

“Long before your request, this has been a priority of mine,” Kaler said.

In outlining the U’s efforts to become leaner, Kaler is also trying to sell the Legislature on an 8.4 percent increase in funding. At a House higher education committee meeting Monday, he asked for lawmakers’ help in holding down the “unsustainable” rise in tuition.The U has tied $42.6 million of its request to a tuition freeze for in-state undergraduates.

At the end of that meeting, Rep. Gene Pelowski, the committee’s chairman, asked Kaler to return Wednesday with details about how the university would handle no increase in funding.

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