Powers Asks Business Leaders to Review University Efficiency and Suggest Cost Cuts

April 10, 2012

AUSTIN, Texas — A group of private sector leaders from such companies as Accenture, Boeing and Dell are reviewing business practices at The University of Texas at Austin and developing strategies to reduce costs and make the university more efficient.

President Bill Powers has charged the 13-member Committee on Business Productivity to issue recommendations this year for bringing best practices to the university's business procedures, organization, commercialization efforts and asset management. The group is chaired by Stephen J. Rohleder, who served as chief operating officer at Accenture until 2009 and now heads the management consulting and technology services company's global Health & Public Services operating group.

“Examining and, when necessary, overhauling the way we do business is essential for UT to remain a top national research university,” Powers says. “The state budget is tight, but these are steps we should take even in the best of times. Just as our scholars challenge the theories of prior generations and our students question the way they previously viewed the world, we should always ask if there are better ways to run our organization.”

The university has about 50,000 students, 20,000 employees and a $2.3 billion annual operating budget.

The committee, which met for the first time in late March, will build on other recent efforts to cut costs and improve efficiency, from consolidating offices and changing procurement practices to handling more transactions online. It will play a similar role on the operational side that other committees, including the Commission of 125 and the Task Force on Undergraduate Graduation Rates, have played on the academic side of the university.

“The University of Texas has a long history of high performance, and I applaud President Powers on his leadership to improve the university’s cost management, which includes reviewing processes to identify ways to do things more efficiently and to improve overall productivity,” says Rohleder, who earned his bachelor’s degree in finance at The University of Texas at Austin. “Drawing on approaches that have proven widely successful in helping businesses streamline and become more efficient, educational institutions have tremendous opportunities to make better use of scarce budget resources.”

The committee will work closely with campus leadership to issue a final report by the end of December. The group will develop benchmarks for successful operations, interview university employees and contractors, and analyze data about the university's costs, outcomes and efficiency.

Its three subcommittees will examine: the efficiency of the university's administrative structure, including in its colleges and units; current practices to commercialize and market technology developed by the university; and how effectively the university manages its range of assets, from its trademark and brand to its land and books.

Powers selected the committee members for their diverse business backgrounds and perspectives. They include alumni of The University of Texas at Austin, Harvard, Stanford, Rice, Oxford and other universities. They are:

  • Stephen J. Rohleder, committee chairman, Accenture, Austin
  • Jason Downie, HM Capital Partners, Dallas
  • Stephan A. James, Accenture, Spicewood
  • Paul Kinscherff, The Boeing Company, Chicago
  • Gary Kusin, TPG Capital, Dallas
  • David Moross, Falconhead Capital, New York
  • Ben Rodriguez, Management and Business Advisors, San Antonio
  • Hector Ruiz, Bull Ventures, San Francisco and Austin
  • Sam Susser, Susser Holdings Corp., Corpus Christi
  • Charles Tate, Capital Royalty, Houston
  • Larry Tu, Dell Inc., Round Rock
  • Lynn Utter, Knoll Inc., East Greenville, Pa.
  • Marcie Zlotnik, StarTex Power, Houston

For more information, contact: Gary Susswein, Office of the President, 512-471-4945.

19 Comments to "Powers Asks Business Leaders to Review University Efficiency and Suggest Cost Cuts"

1.  Bill said on April 16, 2012

The first and best step toward this goal is to do away with faculty administrators. Faculty know research and teaching, not administration! If they'd wanted to be Administrators, they would have taken a MBA from a business school. Bring in some top notch professional administrators and let them run the place as a business, with the right to get rid of the inefficient workers, be they faculty or staff. Now, this is an idea which will never be heard from again!!

2.  Young said on April 16, 2012

I strongly disagree with Bill. MBA doesn't always make a person a better administrator. It's the personal character, not the degree.
And our recent moves seem to neglect "overall" efficiency. For example, replacing course advisors with MyEdu sounds like an efficient way to push the graduation rate, but the majority of students wouldn't mind waiting an year to take guaranteed-A courses based on MyEdu reviews...

3.  Melody said on April 19, 2012

I'm not sure why we need these people. If the University ever DARED to fire one of their multitude of inept staff, then a precedent would be set. Everyone knows you can't get fired from UT.

4.  Sharon said on April 19, 2012

As a retired employee now working 19 hours per week, I welcome this type of input. I agree with Bill that Faculty Administrators is one of the biggest blocks to efficient operation. However, I disagree with Melody. Inefficient employees can be eliminated if Faculty Administrators took the time to follow established procedures for staff evaluations.

Bottom line, try following established procedures on a consistent basis!

5.  Becky Engle said on April 19, 2012

Interesting group of people - looks like venture capitalists and consultants. If you want to do something more efficiently why not ask the people doing things and their "customers". (Ever heard of 360 performance reviews and customer surveys?) Sounds like Bill and Melody are already on the right track. With 50,000 students and 20,000 employees, "running lean and mean" must be a concept foreign to the university. If the idea of "outsourcing" comes up, and I'm sure it will, why pay someone a profit for something the University, as a nonprofit, should be able to do itself more cheaply? Does the University participate in benchmarking with other universities to discover "best practices" (as opposed to just comparing inefficiencies)? Familiar refrains in business are "that's the way so-and-so does it" or find out how "X" company handles that. Anyone heard those around UT for the university world?

6.  Carl R. Brumley said on April 19, 2012

The University should be able to fire inept employees. If they do not, cost rises and you do not have effiency.

7.  Joe H said on April 19, 2012

Can't wait to see the Report and, more importantly, will it be implemented. I bet "reduce the size of the bloated and unneeded Administrators" will not make it on the Report. I have found it amazing that College Costs have gone up at least double the rate of Inflation over the past 2 decades, yet no one in Washington seems concerned. They just keep funnelling more money that way - in any and every way they can - pathetic.

8.  Cary Michael Cox said on April 19, 2012

50,000 students and 20,000 employees - start there.

Do you really need 1 employee for every 2.5 students?

Are we running a cruise ship, a daycare, or a institution of higher learning?

The University's budget is bloated with waste. You can run the 40 acres with half the number of employees.

Cut the work force by half before you ask the legislature for more money.

The Univeristy is bloated, and needs to be fixed.

9.  Rich Franks said on April 22, 2012

Facilities Services (FS) has been on a path of self-desruction for years. Earlier studies have indicated that FS is very 'Top Heavy', but more and more non-maintenance personnel continue to swell the ranks. FS is bound to topple and someone will ask, "How did we get so far from our basic function?" Creating a data crunching position, a centralized call center and extra administrators does not help. The FS hourly staff at PRC is the poorest utilized workforce I've ever seen and getting worse every day. It seems totally out of control with inept management at all levels. Also, trying to use FAMIS as a PM program is ridiculous. I helped eliminate antiquated, inefficient, time-based maintenance in the 1980's!! I hope the committee gets out of the office and asks a lot of questions of a lot of people. Good luck.

10.  Cary said on April 22, 2012

The first and best step toward this goal is to do away with faculty administrators. Faculty know research and teaching, not administration! If they'd wanted to be Administrators, they would have taken a MBA from a business school. Bring in some top notch professional administrators and let them run the place as a business, with the right to get rid of the inefficient workers, be they faculty or staff. Now, this is an idea which will never be heard from again!!

11.  Don Tucker said on April 23, 2012

Why are university faculty and staff being paid at all? They should love their disciplines so much that they are willing to work for free without benefits! *eyes rolling*

12.  Andrea said on April 24, 2012

Efficiency by staff could be greatly improved if we didn't have to jump through so many hoops just to reimburse a faculty member for taking an invited speaker out to lunch, for example! If they decide to get some sushi at Oishi, they will not get an itemized receipt which means I will have to have my department chair AND a Dean in the College signature approve a memorandum to let Accounting know that the receipt is not itemized.

This turns a 10 minute task for 1 person into a 2-hour task for 5 people. All these rules and restrictions, not to mention wasted staff hours uploading every single course syllabus and faculty CV every semester, PLUS no permanent raises for the past 5 years--this makes a staffer think that maybe her desire to use her education and energy to help an organization that does something good in this world is wasted on a culture than no longer values education or the minds & futures of its youth.

Maybe I'll ask one of those business guys for a job. Their secretaries make more than I do and probably do less work, plus they never have to read comments from people on the internet who don't even know them about how useless and unnecessary they are.

Bottom line--if the university continues to treat its staff so atrociously, we'll leave for the private sector where we can actually make a decent living, instead of trying to do some good with our skills.

13.  charlie said on April 25, 2012

You can't judge the total staff by student numbers alone. The staff aren't just here to support students. they also support faculty so it isn't a pure student to staff ratio. the university does need proper streamlining and i hope this committee does a good, practical, sincere job. But, no matter how much they lay off staff/cut costs, students will not pay less. the savings will all go towards improving the standings of the university in rankings. this means more high standing faculty with big paychecks. that's just the way it is if you want to be in the top 10 eventually.

14.  Bill said on April 25, 2012

I agree with Andrea. People who criticize staff should realize that there are 13,000 staff for 50,000 students and 7,000 faculty. "Staff" means everything from keeping the grounds maintained to advising students to preparing the Course Schedules, and thousands of other tasks which allow UT to admit students, recruit faculty, process payment vouchers, etc. If UT continues to reduce its Staff, faculty and students alike will have to do with less (which means you will have to do a lot of these jobs yourself! Faculty are already suffering under a heavy workload because of Staff reductions; students will be next. Students will be paying higher tuition for less Staff to assist them. Faculty will be required to begin processing their own paperwork for such things as reimbursements. Reducing Staff further is a downward spiral!

15.  Will said on April 25, 2012

@Cary: If you cut 50% of UT's employees, you would stop UT from functioning, from Registration, the student dorms, food services, grounds maintenance, course schedules, accounting (including Payroll), purchasing, scholarship applications, student financial aid programs, and half of all the courses taught....just to mention a few. Frankly, UT has cut too many Staff already; more cuts will surely mean less services for students (and faculty).

16.  Jason said on April 25, 2012

Andrea (and other staffers), I would welcome you into the private workforce. If you think you will work less than in an academic setting, you are horribly mistaken. Every person I've ever hired from an academic background quits within a year because "it's too stressful." (Translation: you expect me to work the 8 hours I'm punched in? I cannot have 4 weeks of PTO?) I do not hire them any more.

Are there some top notch, dedicated folks at UT? Most certainly! But, as a group, they are underperformers...guaranteed.

Big business has just as many rules and restrictions. Recordkeeping and transparency improve results in all endeavors, public or private. I think you might be shocked how dedicated their personal secretaries are...most do make more than you (and me)...and most of them put that executive above their family and friends. Is that how you want to spend your life? If yes, ask them for a job! (and be persistent and persuasive!)

Best wishes for you and the study group too.

17.  Tina said on April 26, 2012

Moving more tasks to the electronic realm is a great plan, so long as function is not lost.
Eliminating faculty administrators has at least two benefits: 1) it frees the faculty member to pursue his/her main objectives - teaching and research, and 2) places the business operations responsibilities in the hands of staff who have made it their career - including training and sometimes extensive background experience.
I am also interested in seeing the outcome on the trademark, land, etc. Hopefully there can be more done in those areas. I am disappointed, though, to see that evaluating the contributions of the athletics program to the University isn’t on the list (unless it is hidden within one of the categories.) The actual percentage of what they contribute to the University financially is disappointing – and continues to demonstrate at best a minimal support of the core purpose and values of the University.
Finally, thanks to Bill for breaking out the 20,000 employees into faculty and staff. To further that, I would point out one more error with CMC’s math (and a mistake made by many) - staff don't support ONLY the students and faculty on campus, but also the thousands of people who interact with the University: visitors, parents, prospective students. industry partners, alumni, donors, government officials, other Universities, and the list goes on . While staff feel the cut most deeply it is often due to short-sightedness in the full extent of what they do. That is not to say that there aren’t problems in the staff ranks that should be fixed: bloating in some areas, lack of training, promotion of under-qualified individuals, a difficult and frequently very long process to fire or hire, a job code system that creates room for ambiguity, and this list too goes on. The environment for staff is often hostile and yet they continue to serve the University – the blood that allows everything to continue moving, money well spent.

18.  Bill said on April 27, 2012

Why hasn't the Staff Council spoken up on this issue? We need to contact our representative on the Staff Council and find out what they are doing regarding the continued layoff of Staff.
For that matter, the Faculty Council needs to get involved also, since as the Staff is reduced, that means more nit-picking work for the faculty

19.  Alex said on April 27, 2012

The mantra of cutting staff at random is silly when there is not an earnest review of the functions and goals that the university has as an institution. The main source of inefficiencies comes from the simple fact that at the moment most research universities are two businesses with a shared bureaucracy: 1.- Research, and 2.- Education. Their conflated form creates conflicting incentives for faculty, who earn promotion and tenure chiefly from research, publication, and grant seeking, and thus are incentivized to outsource the burden of teaching massive classes of undergraduates to TA's (did you ever have a foreign TA whose english was below 3rd grade? I did, at UT teaching statistics).

The best solution would be to completely separate these two functions into two different institutions.
Let the research functions be funded by the public and private grants that arleady do so, and let research faculty research. Let the teaching be done by teaching faculty that are promoted based on teaching excellence, and have the state pay for that, it is its responsibility to educate it's population (though Texas seems to find that responsibility unpalatable).