Archive for Monday, May 9, 2011

Efficient choice

Let’s hope KU’s decision to initiate a thorough study of its operations by an outside consulting group proves to be wise.

May 9, 2011


The plan to initiate a thorough study of how to bring about more efficiency and effectiveness in Kansas University’s effort to provide a superior academic research experience for its students, and for the benefit of the state, is a worthy and timely project.

KU officials recently announced they have signed a $2 million-plus contract with Huron Consulting Group to conduct a study to bring about “resource optimization and organizational transformation in higher education” ... how to save money, take advantage of current facilities, eliminate or change inefficient operations, how to generate more revenue and making those changes, which will result in a better, more efficient institution.

Apparently no facet of the university will be off base for the consultant’s investigators. Every part of the school’s operation will be examined, whether relative to potential revenue improvements, to cost cutting possibilities, maintenance techniques, student services, the operation of the athletics program, dining services, campus police expenses, the alumni and endowment associations, and even the possibility of selling prime real estate.

According to a Huron promotion piece, “each $1 million in cost reduction or revenue enhancement is equivalent to a $20 million endowment.”

It sounds as if this is a good decision by senior university officials; however, many faculty and alumni question whether it was necessary to hire an outside firm to conduct the study. Are there faculty members at KU who could have put together a plan to initiate a similar investigation? When faculty salaries have been reduced, could the $2 million-plus have been spent to pay for a comprehensive study by KU faculty and graduate students?

Some will say it is better to have an outside company experienced in studies such as this to make sure it is free from any bias while others will say KU has faculty and courses that teach individuals how to conduct such a study and why not pay them rather than hire an outside company.

Wouldn’t KU faculty have a better firsthand knowledge of how the school is run and who has the power to make needed changes, or will, as others say, using KU faculty allow bias to enter the picture?

Hopefully the decision to initiate a thorough study of KU’s operation will prove to be a good move. The sales pitch of spending $1 million to save the school $20 million makes good sense, and cents.


ashmole 6 years, 9 months ago

Rudderless leadership hires consultants. This is not a good sign.

KU_cynic 6 years, 9 months ago

Inferring that KU's leadership shows weakness by hiring outsiders to tell it what to do is somewhat true. But, what do Ph.D.s in psychology, computer science, Spanish, and so on know about right-sizing organizations and squeezing out operational costs?

The best we can expect from traditional academic leaders is to make good decisions on spending new funds on the margin -- e.g., investing more in life sciences and not in backwater programs in the humanities and "pick-your-politically-correct-studies" programs. Traditional academic leaders are simply out of their element in deciding how to take away resources from some areas to spend them in others during tight times.

And, as to faculty stepping up to help make these decisions, well, that suggestion just shows ignorance of faculty incentives and politics. Vitter already has everyone chasing their tails in a "strategic planning" exercise. Perhaps this strategic planning will actually lead to some operational changes that will be implemented and pay dividends within the tenure of the current chancellor and provost, but that would be exceptional with respect to the ways these SPs usually turn out.

For the cost of Lew Perkins's last retention bonus, the consulting firm will lay down a tough agenda for changing the way some things are done, some of which may actually be implemented and show at least some of the probably rosy-scenario savings projected. That sounds like a bargain.

Thunderdome 6 years, 9 months ago

There are clear advantages and disadvantages to using an outside firm for this endeavor. Cynic pointed out a few. But two things are evident. First, it seems that leadership would want to complete the strategic plan first so that they can articulate KU's strengths and, thereby it's niches, before they take any drastic streamlining measures. Second, we are paying a Chancellor, Provost, Deans, and an unknown number of Vice/assistant/associate chancellors, provosts, and Deans a boatload of money to manage this place. Most companies are pretty flat with maybe four layers of management. And if someone can't cut it, they find someone who can. I don't understand how we can pay the salaries that we pay university administrators and think it is ok for them to hire outside consultants and pay them big money as well. It is mindboggling!

Thunderdome 6 years, 9 months ago

Couldn't KU's #1 ranked Public Administration program support a management review?

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