Univ. business managers to collaborate

As part of an unusual bid to improve behind-the-scenes operations at Yale, departmental business managers will now share more information with each other and receive more direct support from the central administration.

Business managers, the lead administrators within academic and other departments and professional schools, will now report to the vice president for finance and administration, Shauna King, in addition to their dean or department chair, King said yesterday.

Coordinating, though not controlling, business managers centrally is a style more typical of private corporations than of universities, but Yale wants to be a leader when it comes to effective administrative support, said Stephen Murphy, associate vice president for business operations.

The new policy, more than five years in the making, creates a system of communication among business managers that is meant to improve the administrative support behind faculty, staff and students.

The new arrangement has already been in place formally at the School of Medicine and on Science Hill for years, and in other departments more informally. An unusual move for a university, it was greeted with skepticism from some faculty members who said they are satisfied with the current system.

King said the change is a way to improve the University’s use of its human resources.

“We have a wealth of knowledge and experience on campus in our department and central staff, and this closer relationship is a way to make sure we are taking advantage of this to improve the lives of faculty and students,” King said.

Across the University, 130 administrators have been designated as “business managers,” said Murphy, whose position was created this month as part of the change in administrative hierarchy. The 130 manage 1,400 employees, Murphy said, with their offices ranging from zero to dozens of staff members.

There is no one definition yet for a business manager at Yale, he said, as some departments choose to have their business offices manage additional functions. Still, University officials are seeking to ensure that every business activity is connected with someone designated as a business manager — and that every business manager is connected to the central Finance and Administration group.

The finance and administration roles have become more complex as technology, regulations and the University’s size all increase, Murphy said. Officials did not think the complexity was hampering the support they give behind the scenes, but Yale wanted to be proactive, he said.

“It’s the sort of thing that can happen gradually,” Murphy said. “You hear people say, ‘This should be easier to do.’ [The change is] making sure we’re sharing what we know — which can be a challenge at a university.”

Business managers on Science Hill and at the School of Medicine have already had this dual reporting relationship for years. David Gingerella, who oversees the managers on Science Hill, said that initiative is about five years old and has been an important communication tool.

The system’s benefits have been particularly clear when a business administrator leaves a department, he said. Previously, there would be a significant void when a manager left, but now there is a core group of people trained to go in immediately as interim administrators. Departments can take their time searching for a new business manager instead of rushing to fill the position, Gingerella said.

Centralized communication also helps individual managers develop their own careers, he said, as departments under this system are now more willing to let someone move on to another position at Yale.

“It helps make sure departments don’t feel they’re at a disadvantage if someone leaves,” Gingerella said. “They used to be very protective of their managers because they were very dependent on them.”

But Sociology Department chair Karl Ulrich Mayer said he sees no reason to formalize the relationship between central administrators and business managers.

“I think it works very well at the moment,” he said. “Does it make sense to have two authorities?”

Science departments were once reluctant to go along with the change, too, Gingerella said. But they realized with time that the change was only going to improve administrative support for the faculty, he said.

“Initially, they were underwhelmed by the idea,” he said. “The departments thought we’d be adding an additional layer and make things more difficult. We try to add value and simplify things.”

The Yale Corporation recommended the change across the University four years ago, Murphy said, but it had been discussed even before then. The plan was not implemented earlier because the new vice president for Finance and Administration as of December 2003, John Pepper, was only planning to stay at Yale for two years. King, who arrived at the University last June, has said she plans to stay for 10 years or longer.

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