Efficiency in Administration

CU has a team of highly experienced, knowledgeable, and effective administrators on all four of its campuses.  Few members of the public know or appreciate the complexity of operating multi-billion dollar organizations with such a wide array of diverse and often conflicting stakeholders.  CU administrators are charged with making certain thousands of daily functions occur and that every department meets the expectations of the University and seemingly innumerable regulatory entities — all while keeping the primary mission of the academy at the forefront.  It’s not an easy task.

One of the challenges Higher Education institutions face is the growing volume of regulatory demands imposed on them by various state & federal laws and agencies.  With each new regulation or expectation, the institution must either identify existing staffing to address the requirements or hire additional personnel to meet the need.

Most research grants impose administrative requirements but also contribute towards the cost of meeting those requirements.  They even may add a small increment of funding which helps cover the University’s other expenses.

As the institution’s legal obligations also evolve and expand — such as in the arena of sexual assault and harassment (where CU has fallen down too many times and needs leadership to better address these issues) — the University also finds it must add staff to address those new obligations.  And, in some cases, for an institution which wants to stay ahead of these phenomena, it is strategic and valuable to staff up early.

HOW CAN CU FIND MORE ADMINISTRATIVE EFFICIENCIES?

Despite the aforementioned challenges, the University of Colorado still has room to improve its administrative efficiency.  In some cases, positions exist based on outdated requirements.  Other positions could be combined to reduce headcount.  Attrition could be strategically deployed to reduce administrative positions.  Cross-training could make employees more valuable and provide for gradual staffing reductions.  And, given advancements in Artificial Intelligence, AI could be used to make administrators more efficient and effective by consolidating both offices and the responsibilities of certain individuals.

One of the challenges of a large institution is that, as positions are added over decades, it is very difficult to currently determine which ones are no longer needed, in part or in full.  An initiative by the new President could reveal opportunities for staff reductions and generate substantial savings.  While many positions do “good things,” the University needs to begin applying a test using a higher standard — i.e., asking “Does this absolutely have to be done?” rather than “Is this a good thing to do?”  Even if the task is a positive one, it may be time to eliminate it as other priorities have become more important.

The bottomline is there is tremendous inertia when it comes to administrative positions — including many at the highest levels — in any institution which is one and a half centuries old.  By using his or her lack of the extensive personal relationships (which presidents develop over the years and which can result in friendships and professional relationships getting in the way of doing what’s best for the University), a new President, without those concerns, has the one-time opportunity to actually reduce the size and related costs of the University’s Administration.

The University also could examine how it responds to external demands and seek ways to streamline and even limit its responses — e.g., doing the minimum, at times, so as to reduce administrative costs while still meeting any regulatory obligations.  This could be a strategic approach to redundant and even unreasonable regulation to which the University is subjected.

In addition, it is time for CU to band together with other institutions of Higher Education and push back against external impositions which have little or no value.  These, too, may include requirements from previous eras which simply are less germane or not even relevant at all today.

Even if a regulation is well-intended, CU and its sister organizations may have opportunities to demonstrate that the cost of compliance exceeds the value of the requirement.  This creates a separate set of opportunities to modify and even eliminate what now may be superfluous regulations.  The new President could lead such an effort which would benefit hundreds and even thousands of institutions — freeing resources which could be directed to faculty, staff, and students.

An initiative expanding on the cost-cutting and efficiency leadership of Presidents Bruce Benson and Hank Brown likely could have the potential to save the University millions of dollars while simultaneously changing CU’s culture so greater administrative efficiency becomes imbued in daily operations.  The new President has this singular opportunity.

At the same time, the University must be careful where, how, and when it make changes.  And, in some cases, it’s clear CU needs to do more or, at least, do a better job managing its operations.

For example, the University-run bus system on the Boulder campus often leaves students, faculty, and staff stranded when there are not enough seats available at certain times.  And, at other times, there are multiple empty buses running routes together.  One would think that, by now, CU would have figured out how to optimize the transportation services it provides.  There are hundreds of undergraduate students, graduate students, and faculty members who could aid staff members to get this done.  It’s about time.

Another example is the University’s failure to provide adequate parking for its faculty, staff, and students.  This seems to be a function of CU’s rapid growth, especially on the Boulder campus.  There are numerous signs the University has planned poorly for that growth and continues to welcome additional students without the operational improvements needed to make certain all aspects of the University run smoothly.

In the case of parking, CU’s Parking Services changed the way it allows spaces to be reserved just a matter of days before the system went online.  University community members did not get any advance notice of the changes; rather, they had to constantly log onto the system on a daily basis for multiple weeks if they wanted to know what was happening.

Rather than simplify the system and allow customers to keep the spaces they had — thus reducing the volume of activity for the annual sign-up process — the University makes everyone start all over every year.  This makes relatively little sense.

Even worse, a number of customers who logged onto the system were kicked off due to the Website not being robust enough to maintain traffic in an orderly manner.  These people then lost their priority position and, in some cases, forfeited their already assigned spot (and possibly ended up not getting a spot at all).

This kind of confusion is indicative of what happens when you add people and do not make adequate provisions for them.  It also does not speak well of a planning process which appears to be very last-minute in nature.

There likely are hundreds of suggestions students, faculty, staff members, alumni, and community members can make.  It’s time CU broaden its communication avenues to solicit this help.  The University has nothing to lose by doing this and could reap great benefits on all four of its campuses.

With an Ombudsman who would report key suggestions to the community and track the University’s response, everyone would be empowered to improve the institution.  Because this represents a wonderful “win/win/win/win” opportunity for all concerned, it should be done immediately!