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.

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