Shared Services remains controversial

Despite the implementation of shared services in many universities across the country, Yale’s push to centralize administrative tasks still draws criticism from the University’s faculty.

In 2010, the University launched its shared services center, a 75-employee division that consolidates many administrative tasks like payroll, accounts payable and vendor compliance. Since then, at least 12 other universities have brought shared services into their operations, and at least 350 global organizations plan to adopt the model by the end of 2014, according to a recent survey by a national consulting firm. However, faculty members interviewed still expressed hesitation about the program, which was designed to centralize many human resources functions and reduce administrative positions.

“My department became the poster child for why the original concept [of shared services] was a disaster and the implementation was poorly executed,” said Benjamin Foster, a professor in the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Department. “It was simply an unworkable proposition to imagine that an academic department could manage with 10-month, part-time and unqualified staff support.”

Foster admits that senior administrators listened and adapted in the wake of faculty complaints. He added that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with centralizing tasks, and the processing of receipts has worked very well, but the overall execution of the program has been poor.

Fallout from the implementation of the shared services program began in a February 2012 Yale College Faculty Meeting. In the discussion, over 20 professors spoke out against the business model, criticizing the downgrade of clerical staff, the reduction of positions and the idea of treating individual academic departments in the same way. In a March 2012 email from then-President Richard Levin and then-Provost Peter Salovey, senior administrators apologized for some of the adverse effects of the shared services program.

“The re-organization of staff support in departments and programs has raised many questions, and we regret that this has been a source of stress for some faculty members, as evidenced, for example, by the concerns expressed at the Yale College Faculty meeting in February,” the email said. “In the future, we will work collaboratively with departments to ensure that additional staffing changes serve each department’s needs and are welcomed by the faculty.”

A November 2013 memo from Provost Benjamin Polak and Salovey told faculty members that more cuts to administrative staff are forthcoming.

Following Yale’s decision to implement shared services, the University of Michigan announced in 2013 that it would begin consolidating a variety of finance and administrative tasks into shared services as well. However, the program’s chief, Rowan Miranda, was replaced following implementation delays and a wave of faculty protest. The university revised its projected shared services savings from $17 million a year to between $5 million and $6 million, according to the University of Michigan’s webpage.

Other schools, including Cornell and the University of California, Berkeley have also begun shared services initiatives.

Yet two years later, Yale faculty interviewed are still unsure of the shared services program and its alleged benefits. Foster said there have been different explanations for the rationale of implementing the model. At first, it was supposed to be more efficient and cost saving, said Foster — then, it was supposed to cut down on positions. But English professor Jill Campbell said she still has not seen evidence of any pecuniary savings.

Campbell said that Vice President for Finance and Business Operations Shauna King — who spearheaded the program’s adoption — has taken credit for savings where staff has been cut, but not for new costs incurred, including the salaries shifted to other places in the University.

In one department, Campbell said, a full-time business manager became half-time when her duties were split between offices. The position of registrar in the department was also removed and replaced by a lower-grade entry level, 10-month-a-year clerical position.

King, Polak and Vice President for Human Resources and Administration Michael Peel could not be reached for comment this week. Shared Services Assistant Vice President Ronn Kolbash declined to comment.

“Despite the hiring of highly-competent and hard-working individuals in this and another low-grade clerical position in the department, very high turnover and reduced staffing have left support for faculty and students in the department in disarray,” Campbell said in the email. “In the last two years, six different people, all excellent, have come and gone in that department office, along with two or three temporary workers. This kind of staffing instability seriously damages the functioning of a department office.”

Foster added that the specific practices of human resources consolidation do not come from American universities — instead, he said, they come from the business world.

The shared services program handles payroll, accounts payable and vendor compliance for all University departments and schools.

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