Shared Services under fire

Faculty protested the ongoing University-wide push to centralize administrative services — an effort they say harms departments and their staff — at last Thursday’s Yale College faculty meeting.

Over the past few years, Yale has implemented a business model called “Shared Services” to reduce costs and share resources across departments, University President Richard Levin said. During that time, Shared Services has shifted administrative operations from business managers and clerical staff in individual departments to more general “operations managers” headquartered at Science Park. But most professors interviewed, some of whom attended last week’s meeting, said they feel administrators are imposing an across-the-board system without first recognizing the needs of individual departments or consulting the faculty.

“You cannot bring a cookie-cutter operation from outside and impose it in an uncouth and brutal manner,” said Dimitri Gutas, a professor in the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Department.

Thursday’s meeting drew roughly 200 faculty members — far more than typically attend — and forced it to relocate from Connecticut Hall to Linsly-Chittenden. Though Shared Services was only one item on the agenda at the faculty meeting, debate on the issue prompted two consecutive votes to extend the meeting by 30-minute intervals. Faculty meetings can only be extended through a vote of approval by at least two-thirds of those in attendance.

After Vice President for Finance and Business Operations Shauna King gave a presentation on the progress of Shared Services, about 20 professors — many of whom are department chairs, directors of undergraduate studies or directors of graduate studies — took turns criticizing the business model. Professors present said faculty expressed their frustrations with the system, such as the unresponsiveness of non-departmental business managers and the detrimental effects the reorganization has had on administrative staff.

The meeting was chaired by Yale College Dean Mary Miller. Levin and Provost Peter Salovey were also in attendance.

Levin said the University has had a Shared Services unit in the sciences for at least a decade. Because administrators found that effort to be successful, Levin said they decided to extend the initiative across Yale to improve resource allocation.

Salovey deferred comment for this story to King, who did not respond to multiple requests for comment Tuesday evening.

But even though Shared Services was introduced University-wide a few years ago, professors said the administration has still failed to justify the initiative adequately, which they called ill-suited to individual departments’ needs.

“[Shared Services] was supposed to be streamlining and simplifying our lives, and what it’s done is made it much more complicated,” said Benjamin Foster, a professor in the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Department. “Everything takes about two times as long. We resent the down-skilling of departmental administrative personnel … We don’t see how that can be more efficient or cheaper.”

English professor Jill Campbell said in a Tuesday email that the changes she has seen from Shared Services have not made visible improvements to business management.

Campbell said administrators have reduced salaries of some administrative jobs and downgraded some clerical positions so that they only last 10 months per year. Gutas said the secretarial job of the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Department’s only staff member was reduced to a 10-month position beginning last semester, meaning there will no longer be someone to handle administrative duties throughout the summer.

The Office of Finance and Business Operations has not demonstrated how this type of reorganization reduces costs for the University, Campbell said, especially as Yale has simultaneously increased spending on non-departmental business administration. She added that plans for improving services such as grant administration and financial transactions have not been clearly explained to faculty members.

Miller said in a Monday interview that she feels there is “a lot of confusion” among faculty about what Shared Services entails.

Professors said their understanding of the Shared Services model is that it tasks operations managers with overseeing the business responsibilities of six to eight departments, and they expressed concern that one person could not handle this workload. Faculty members also said they are concerned that cuts will be made to clerical positions.

Within the English Department, 44 graduate students and seven faculty members have signed a petition in support of the department’s three clerical staff, who have been asked “to justify their jobs as part of an aggressive process of departmental restructuring,” according to the petition. Presented to Salovey on Monday, the petition stated that efforts to centralize administrative work could result in cuts to staff and threaten the department’s “institutional autonomy.”

Italian Languages and Literatures Department Chair Giuseppe Mazzotta said he feels the Shared Services model is particularly inappropriate for language departments, which rely on departmental staff with specialized language skills to communicate with professors in foreign countries. While his department has not experienced any cuts thus far, Mazzotta said he would resist potential future changes.

The Classics Department, on the other hand, has experienced restructuring from Shared Services. The department has had an off-site business manager since the previous business manager retired in January 2010, department chair Christina Kraus said. She said the switch was not as damaging as she anticipated, but has led to “a couple of strongly negative effects” such as doubling her administrative work and making it harder to plan departmental initiatives.

Yale College faculty meetings are held on the first Thursday of every month.


  • Concerned_about_services

    Just about every central service at Yale is broken to some extent. Departments rely on department staff to deal with these broken services — to enter the repeated requests to get maintenance done, to call and call offices chase down information, etc.

    Upper administration seems to be oblivious to how bad Yale services are. Apparently they are busy with other initiaitives.

    Vice President King was tasked with fixing this broken system with less than no budget to institute new functional services. Leaving her hanging to take all the blame for the resulting mess is painful to watch.

  • concerned_staff

    VP King imposed a corporate business model of first picking the low hanging fruit and when that is done going after payroll and benefits! New initiatives maybe good ideas but are over shadowed by the cost of all the “consultants” and new Upper Administrative positions created to manage said initiatives.
    It does not help that their is a general feeling in long term staff that VP King’s administration has nothing but contempt for their years of service and knowledge.

  • joey00

    With that being said > concerned_staff , This person King with out a doubt has an exorbitant number of relatives in employ here.She has to be confering that specific information to her paid and provided staff of consultants..One should have appointed a more neutral person to wield the ax

  • p_atYale

    In the view of many, Yale support services have deteriorated since Ms. King began masterminding the new “corporate” centralization policies. Solutions to systemic problems have repeatedly been developed by high level administrators, hired (at significant cost) from outside academia, and arriving with no experience with the structures and needs of a university environment. Rather than including faculty and mid-level administrators as consultants in the process of developing better systems and more effective policies, these things have been imposed “brutally,” without sufficient vetting of many online instruments, and without regard to the effects on the ground in highly variable department cultures, pursuits, and organizations. Subsequent staff and faculty feedback questioning policy effectiveness, rather than being viewed as an opportunity for collaboration to find better solutions, has been routinely ignored, rebuffed, or dismissed by policy-makers who remain far-removed and insulated from the actual working life of academic departments. (The fact that Ms. King has failed to respond to requests for comment speaks loudly.) New centralized communications interfaces with service centers featuring automated intake and referral are resulting increasingly delayed and inconvenient response times, and internal information is often harder to locate and track. The goal of eliminating mid-level administrative departmental staff in favor of a two-tiered support system consisting of expensive policy-level administrators, overseeing swaths of clerical staff warehoused in Science Park cubicles, will never meet the complex and fluid needs of academic departments. Unlike corporate CEOs, academic faculty did not pursue a scholarly career in order to be immersed in administrative tasks. As the previous writer states, they rely on mid-level staff and managers, with knowledge and personal commitment to the needs and goals of the individual department and its faculty, to integrate the academic missions with the administrative bureaucracies inside and outside the University.

  • Boogs

    In the nine years I’ve been associated with Yale, the bureaucracy has evolved from idiosyncratic but effective to complicated and incompetent.

    At least we find Levin admitting above what’s become rather clear as of late: “Levin said the University has had a Shared Services unit in the sciences for at least a decade.”

    I, for the life of me, don’t understand why these otherwise intelligent people, from Levin on down, don’t understand that the humanities aren’t the sciences. What’s strangest to me is that these people seem to view Yale’s proud heritage in the humanities with shame. It’s Yale. It’s not Mount Pinatubo Community College. If the humanities should be supported and flourished anywhere, it should be here. Maybe we should start sending all our cultural treasures to Peru.

    I for one will gladly do my part to make certain that Levin’s tenure at Yale is what’s viewed with shame.

  • concerned_sciences_fac

    Hold on. I’m a science faculty member and am not aware of any shared services having been deployed 10 years ago — unless Levin is referring to “Grants and Contracts,” which has to be a centralized unit; that office has been in place for many decades.

    This isn’t about the university valuing one discipline over another. We have support staff in the sciences, too, and value them just as our colleagues across the university. I agree with the first comment: Yale’s central services are broken, and support staff are needed to try todeal with the mess. I can’t imagine what this place would be like if even more services were centralized. The administration is out of touch with how things (don’t) work.

    Why is it that Princeton and Harvard aren’t looking at “shared services”? Our endowments are performing comparably. Why are WE having such a hard time with our budget? What was the point of the capital campaign? Maybe Levin should do more fundraising for Yale instead of Yale-NUS.

    Support staff make the place go. Shared services is a terrible idea, and would be bad for morale. Instead of working for a group of faculty, folks will be in Dilbert-style cubicles. Why not just outsource services to India to save even more money?

    • joematcha

      Actually Harvard is looking at shared services, they just haven’t gone forth with an initiative yet.

  • joey00

    Why don’t you put “concerned sciences” in charge..Oh ,i think they started outsourcing to India already,when you paypal for a lab supply or other necessity,it is received by a worker in India who then e-mails orders to supply house in Mass..It sounds like one needs to drag a net through several departments including procurements and haul out the debris

  • readerguy

    Yes, the central services are broken, but part of that is because they are being asked to do more (or maintain) with less. I know of several examples in Facilities where supervisors retired in the past two years and they were not replaced, their jobs were simply divided up among the remaining staff. Likewise there are fewer maintenance staff, period, even as the University continues to grow. Of course services will suffer, you can only stretch things so far.

    When the economic downturn hit, I understand that faculty are not the ones who are going to feel the brunt of that, and that makes sense. But when you undercut their support network, you get the response we are seeing in the article above.

    And really the question needs to be asked – why does it have to be like this? Yale’s endowment rivals the GDP of Bolivia, why is everything nickel and dimed to death around here? Our services should be world class and they are not. Open up the purse strings a little for goodness sake.

  • EmmaR

    [quote]The goal of eliminating mid-level administrative departmental staff in favor of a two-tiered support system consisting of expensive policy-level administrators, overseeing swaths of clerical staff warehoused in Science Park cubicles, will never meet the complex and fluid needs of academic departments.–p_atYale[/quote]

    This remark deserves to be repeated–over and over and over.

    What Shared Services represents overall is just part of a strategy for the university’s future (which is partly being accomplished in the name of recessionary constraints). Personnel, money, and decision-making authority (power) are being shifted from historically more autonomous academic departments and faculty to centralized executive offices (and professional “managers” and administrators).

    Yale’s faculty and other influential constituencies (graduate students, alums) are perhaps starting to perceive this as a network of proposed changes–far more sweeping than the “shared services” model–and to respond.

    Shared Services possibly makes sense for corporations, though it comes at the price of lack of accountability, decreased career opportunities for staff, and lower morale (the mid-level staff remaining have already had most time-accrued benefits stripped and are stuck with under-performing 401k instruments as the bulwark for their retirement; only lower-tier unionized positions are being made available to the smaller departments, which consigns to them the newest, youngest and/or least experienced and qualified staff).

  • 81alumna

    I’m impressed by the stoicism of the chair of the department of classics. She is reported to have said that “doubling her administrative work and making it harder to plan departmental initiatives” was a less damaging impact than she had anticipated. Nonetheless, for a university like Yale, and expanded across a number of (primarily humanities?) departments, this doesn’t seem like a step forward.

  • maemat

    I’m wondering what is Local 34 & 35 opinion on this situation. They are taking over all the union positions. How could they not notice! This has been going on now for 2 years. We need to revolt against this injustice. Yale is NOT a corporation. Please stop the nonsense!

  • Concerned_about_services

    In every department it takes a team of people — lecturers, building maintenance, chaired professors, IT support, business office staff, etc. — working together to accomplish the educational mission of the university. As a top institution in the humanities and social sciences Yale should be leading the world in understanding how diverse groups of people work together towards a goal, instead of hiring consultants to pull effective organizations apart.

  • The_Lorax
  • The_Lorax

    A giant swath of the intelligent, thoughtful managers and professionals have left Yale in the past 24 months, leaving an enormous knowledge gap. These were people who loved Yale just as much as any student or alum, if not more because they spent practically their whole careers here. Yale has been gutted and all the new systems, processes and outsiders are no match to fill that gap. Smart people used to come to work for Yale because they made a conscious lifestyle decision that Yale was so much better than the corporate world. The people you worked with were smart and were doing important stuff. Yale was real and it was human. It was a trade-off a lot of smart, good people were willing to make.

    Now, we have all the worst aspects of corporate life without any of the upside of financial remuneration or promotional opportunities. It is all corporate bull-speak ‘best in class deliverables” and “value proposition competencies”. It is a joke–there is no there, there and it is patently clear to everyone. However, when you dumb things down, and make standardization king, to the detriment of independent thinking, how do you ever get that back? It seems unlikely since you’ve created a horrible work environment and all the new people get screwed on the benefits. There will never be a compelling reason for good people to come work at Yale for a long time, or really, for any time. The place is too broken to teach anything useful to the careerists. The learning curve is tremendous and no outsider can really do it quickly. Therefore all the new employees are only ever going to skim across the surface and get quickly tired of the meaninglessness of it all. You’ll have to hire a lot more people who understand little of the place and the robots will beget robots.

    The current environment sucks to be an M&P. The people who are left after the exodus don’t know each other, and if they do, they don’t like each other. They don’t want to spend time together and even if they did, there’s no time to do that. You can’t approach problem-solving in a thoughtful manner anymore and every problem belongs to someone else instead of to all of us. There is no respect for upper management. There is no sense of community and let’s be frank, the community we desire is NOT more business people at Yale; the community we want to be a part of is the university–when we worked with students and faculty, it gave the illusion that we were part of the true Yale community, but now that is all gone. We get bi-annual meetings with the president or our BOLT leader and that is supposed to be the mindless group pat on the back that makes it all worthwhile. Everyone’s scared to speak their minds. Toeing the corporate line and acting in a passionless mechanical fashion, never stepping out of proscribed bounds of hierarchical authority is all we’ve got. Pile on top of that an absolutely insane financial situation and the mood is very very ugly out there.

  • abandoned

    Remember The_Lorax, folks running the place now are the same ones who outsourced thousands of jobs in corporate America. They destroyed communities, to their benefit, and were paid thousands for every individual displaced. Then, when they arrive here, they bring high priced corporate cronies in who flame out (forget promotional opportunities), but not before they make a mess of things and not before they plan and execute a move to reduce headcount, streamline operations and make Yale more efficient. And again, they benefit on the backs of the displaced. The result is a purposeful death of community, a move that allows greater cultural brutality that goes unchallenged by the academic leadership. For those people left, you may need to punch a clock to get a paycheck, but you are too smart to buy-in to the “world class” babble/vision of people wanting to be rid of you. Watch the clock, and your back. 5 o’clock won’t come fast enough.

  • Concerned_about_services

    Incredibly, the faculty meeting and the comments that have followed have had no effect on the administration. It appears radical changes are being made to further “centralize” IT support, with major personnel actions. Once again this is being done without any consideration of what departments need to fulfill their mission.

  • Concerned_about_services

    Everyone should consult the following regarding the new IT — it is a really scary picture

  • LouieLouie

    I absolutely agree with all comments here and I am heartened to see that I am not alone in my dismay and disappointment of what Yale is becoming. Many of us who came to Yale from the corporate world and took a cut in pay reasoned that all the unique benefits were worth the sacrifice. When the economy improves, Yale will be unable to attract talent and will lose talent because the benefits have been arbitrarily reduced and eliminated. It still is a wonderful atmosphere to be involved in but the morale of staff is extremely LOW. The Workplace Survey addressed this issue with percentages and “metrics” but it didn’t come close to the reality and depth of dissatisfaction among staff members of ALL levels. Administrators tried to show us they were listening by scheduling pizza parties and Christmas gatherings to demonstrate that they cared and wanted to improve morale. To assume that these types of “carrots” would help morale is an insult to all staff. The culture is changing and some of it IS positive but as The_Lorax stated, the new VPs come in from Pepsi and then Pepsi invites her buddy from General Mills who “retired” from General Mills with hundreds of thousands of stock option payouts and he decide to come to Yale for “fun”. When the “fun” is over, we’ll probably lose more benefits and receive smaller and less frequent salary increases. If any of those new VPs or upper level adminstrators are reading these comments, I would hope they would stop and consider what is being said. Morale at Yale among old and new staff members is dangerously LOW! That is not “world class” at all.

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