Tufts to Assess Administrative Structure

Project will position university to address financial challenges of higher education
November 14, 2012

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Tufts University is launching a new project aimed at improving administrative effectiveness and efficiency, largely in response to the financial challenges confronting higher education. The Tufts Effectiveness in Administrative Management (TEAM) project will begin in January with a four-month assessment of all existing administrative functions on all three campuses.

“Right now there are lots of universities like us asking if they should be doing this,” says Executive Vice President Patricia Campbell, who is spearheading the project. “Like them, we want to think ahead and make sure that we address in a measured and thoughtful way the financial challenges that are facing us, particularly as we look out a few years.” As is the case with most institutions of higher education, growth in traditional streams of revenue, including endowment and federal research dollars, has slowed, while at the same time universities are feeling public pressure to rein in tuition increases as well as meet students’ financial need.

The university will engage an outside consultant to assess current administrative processes and issue a report and recommendations to an executive committee comprising President Anthony P. Monaco, Provost David Harris, Vice President for Finance Thomas McGurty and Campbell. The executive committee will be responsible for deciding which recommendations will be implemented. A steering committee made up of other administrators, deans, faculty and staff will also help guide the project.  All Tufts employees will have multiple opportunities for providing input and feedback.

Tufts Now spoke with Campbell about the TEAM project and what it means for Tufts.

Tufts Now: Why is the university doing this now?

“We need to take a look at how we deliver administrative services that support students and faculty,” says Patricia Campbell. Photo: Alonso NicholsThe world of higher education is challenged financially—tuition is high, the economy is impacting the ability to raise money, the financial markets aren’t yielding the kind of returns they once did, and the public is questioning the value of a university education. Students here get a fantastic education, as well as a wonderful experience, and we want to make sure we’re able to continue to do that.

We need to take a look at how we deliver administrative services that support students and faculty. We need to deliver services in the most effective, efficient way possible so that Tufts prudently uses its resources to preserve and enhance its core mission of teaching and research.

I think we’re smart to do this now and not wait until there’s a crisis. Our motivation is to ask: How can we be most effective?

Why are you only looking at the administrative side, and not at faculty and research?

We have a university-wide strategic planning process in place, which is looking at teaching and research. The administrative effectiveness project will help us respond to the priorities outlined in the strategic plan. These two projects are happening at the same time, which may seem a bit overwhelming to everybody, but it’s smart to do it that way. We don’t want to have an administrative structure that’s out of sync with the way we want to deliver our academics. And we also want to make sure that we have the resources to support what we’re planning to do academically.

The same executive committee will provide leadership on the strategic planning initiative and the administrative effectiveness project. You can be assured that we will be coordinating our work and identifying areas where one effort needs to support the other.

Who will run this project?

I will take the lead and work closely with the executive committee. We will create a steering committee, which will include all of the vice presidents, as well as several deans, executive associate deans, faculty members and managers. Our goal is not to have every function and every school represented, but to get broad representation across the university so that the steering committee can help guide and provide input to the process. In addition, the Academic and Administrative councils, which represent every school and leadership position at Tufts, will be involved.

Once we have finished the assessment phase, we will create working groups, which will have much wider representation on them, to look at the specific opportunities and implement change. Dick Reynolds [A67], who recently stepped down after almost three years as vice president for operations, will be the project manager.

Why are we using an outside consultant for this project?

There are good reasons to use an outside consultant. They have expertise based not only on what happens at Tufts but on what happens at many other institutions. They can provide data that will tell us how we compare to our peer institutions. Maybe we’ll learn we need to add capacity in places, because they will be able to look at what it takes to do a certain function here versus elsewhere.

The other reason is objectivity. Everyone involved in this project owns some piece of Tufts’ administration—including me. And while I’m really proud of what we do, maybe there’s a better way to do it, and an outside perspective will help with that.

Has Tufts done one of these projects before?

Not exactly like this, but Tufts has engaged in a number of efforts to improve its administrative processes. We crafted an administrative plan for excellence four years ago, and based on that, we put in place new financial, human resources, accounting and purchasing systems. The university-wide Excellence at Work survey, which involved nearly 2,800 Tufts employees, asked people to tell us what it was like to work at Tufts. We know our staff has a lot of knowledge about Tufts and how to do their jobs in the best way. A lot of people told us that working here involves a lot of red tape. So that will be one of the things that the administrative efficiency project will address.

Do you anticipate a reduction in staffing or cutting the budget?

We have not established this project with any predetermined financial target, although clearly, given the challenges facing higher education, we need to look at cost containment. We’ve said our goal is to be as effective as we possibly can. Would I like it if we are able to do an even better job and use fewer resources to do it? Yes, I would like that, because we would be able to devote those resources to teaching, learning, research and financial aid, those areas that are really important to Tufts. But again, we’re not entering into this with a specific financial target.

What’s the timeline for the TEAM project?

I hope to have a consultant chosen and a steering committee in place by early December. The assessment phase will run between January and April 2013. The consultants will talk to lots and lots of people on all three campuses. There will be many opportunities for people to have input, whether it’s an individual interview or a focus group or a survey. We’ll create many ways for people to share their ideas with us.

Who’s going to be making the final decision regarding any changes?

The executive committee—the president, the provost, myself and our vice president for finance—will be the decision-making body. We will also keep the university’s Board of Trustees involved; we have their enthusiastic support for this project.

The other side of the cost equation is revenue. Will you be looking at that?

While that’s not a specific component of this project, we are going to look for new ways to bring in revenue. There are new programs, for instance, that fit in well with our mission, such as the medical school’s physician assistant training program, which will start in January, as well as the Fletcher School’s GMAP degree program for mid- to senior-level professionals, which started more than a decade ago. They meet a really important need, build on strengths that Tufts already has and work for us financially. Clearly we’re also going to be looking at how we use online and digital technology to our advantage, and the university’s strategic planning process will begin to identify opportunities for things that we might do academically.

How is Tufts doing financially?

Tufts has an AA bond rating, which means that the financial rating agencies see the university as being fiscally strong. That’s why this is a good time to do an administrative assessment, when we can look at our operations in a thoughtful and methodical way.

Taylor McNeil can be reached at taylor.mcneil@tufts.edu.

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