After a University push to centralize administrative services came under fire at the Yale College Faculty meeting on Feb. 2, Vice President for Finance and Business Operations Shauna King defended her office’s efforts to streamline departmental operations.
Earlier this month, professors criticized shared services, a business model intended to shift common administrative tasks in Yale’s various departments to centralized service units, as an across-the-board system that does not meet the needs of individual departments and has harmed staff. Though King acknowledged in a Feb. 16 email to all finance and business operations staff that some faculty are uneasy about shared services, King wrote that she believes her department is “on the right track” and that the initiative is in Yale’s “best long-term interest.”
King told the News in a Wednesday email that faculty have protested shared services “most strongly” because of the reductions in and restructuring of departmental staff over the past few years. But King said these changes were required because of the nationwide economic recession that struck in 2008, and were not the result of shared services.
“I understand faculty concerns, but these reductions were made in response to the financial crisis and the loss of $6.5 billion in the Yale endowment,” King said. “We remain convinced — and I believe experience will prove — that shared services and certain staff-sharing arrangements will be helpful as we all adjust to reduced staff levels.”
King said more than 600 staff positions — mainly from administrative units instead of departments in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences — have been eliminated since the recession hit in 2008. As administrators have looked to reduce departmental staff levels, they have tried to leave those vacancies unfilled rather than lay off additional employees, King told faculty at their February meeting. She added that tight finances have also caused some departments to share staff members and change previously full-year positions to 10-month posts, both changes that were not caused by shared services.
Throughout the budget crisis, shared services has helped Yale cope with staffing reductions by assuming tasks that are common to all departments, King said.
“What shared services has done is allow some of these [positions] not to be replaced, or to have some work moved to shared services, allowing department positions to be reshaped for the work that remained,” she said.
But some professors contend that shifting administrative work to shared service units has not, in fact, lightened departmental loads, and has at times led to cuts in staffing not necessitated by budget constraints.
William Kelly, a professor of anthropology, said Yale’s academic departments rely on staff with “thick knowledge of multiple skills” — not shared services employees, who are assigned to perform specialized tasks away from main campus.
Kelly also said he believes positions have been left unfilled to help implement the shared services initiative, even though administrators have pointed to budget constraints to justify those actions.
“They’re very coy because sometimes cuts are made with a budget rationale. Sometimes cuts are made with a shared services rationale,” Kelly said. “Frankly, they aren’t very honest about what they’re doing.”
Professor of English Jill Campbell GRD ’88 said in a Thursday email that efforts to centralize administrative tasks through shared services and to reduce staff have burdened other faculty, administrators and staff in those departments. The support provided by shared services has not compensated for departmental staff reductions, she added.
In an email to the News earlier this month, Campbell criticized King’s office for not demonstrating how the shared services initiative would cut costs for the University.
When King and University President Richard Levin introduced shared services — prior to the recession — the goal was to “minimize the administrative burden on faculty by making it easier to get things done,” King told faculty at their February meeting. Although administrators were not seeking a way to reduce costs at the time, she said the budget crisis forced them to reevaluate their priorities.
King said shared services has not resulted in any “incremental costs” to the University, and rather has begun to save Yale money. The workers handling shared services have come mainly from the Office of Finance & Business Operations, she said, adding that the few “key hires” made for the initiative were funded through cuts to other parts of her department’s budget. She said that she expects savings from shared services to become more apparent “as the effort scales up” — a projection Campbell said will need to be tested.
“If Shared Services is to achieve long-term savings for the University, the costs of its administration, its facilities and its staff must be measured against the savings achieved by genuinely reduced need for staff in other locations,” Campbell said.
Just as the cost-effectiveness of shared services is not yet clear, the initiative has also not reached all departments because administrators are rolling out the initiative in stages.
Economics Department chair Benjamin Polak said he has worked with King’s office to plan for introducing shared services in his department, and said administrators have been “responsive” to the department’s needs. Polak said that, because of its large size, the Economics Department requires an independent undergraduate and graduate registrar who can deal with its numerous faculty and students. At the same time, he said other tasks currently handled by departmental staff members, such as processing expenses, could be completed more efficiently under shared services.
“There’s a bit of a difference between shared services with the respect to the back-office operations and sharing the services in the front offices,” he said.
Dan Harrison GRD ’86, chair of the Department of Music, said outsourcing departmental work to shared services employees has worked well in his department. Harrison said the help the department registrar has received from a University-wide shared services unit has been “exemplary,” and that services important to the “local culture” of his department have been maintained.
Harrison added that no changes were made to the department’s business operations without his approval. King said administrators in her office met with department chairs “several times” to discuss shared services and possible changes in staffing.
The Department of Music also began sharing its business manager with the English Department last summer, Harrison said. While the business manager’s workload has increased under the shared services system, her compensation has increased as well, Harrison added.
Though Harrison said shared services has seemed effective as a business model, he called its implementation “problematic.” After King’s office held a meeting about the initiative last summer for clerical and technical workers, Harrison said one staff member in his department returned feeling as though there “wasn’t any good news for existing staff.”
King said last summer’s meetings with staff in some departments were held to involve staff in conversations of how and by whom departmental work is performed. She denied that employees had their jobs questioned in those meetings.
“We did not indicate any specific actions that would be taken with any positions and no one’s job was threatened at these meetings, but I can understand how, in budget reduction times like the ones we have experienced these last few years, this sort of discussion could cause concern,” King said.
Yale has begun to form three shared services centers — Yale Shared Services for business transactions, Faculty Research Management Services for grant administration and Faculty Administrative Services — through the consolidation of existing units. The Yale Shared Service Center was formed in January 2010 and helps operations managers and departmental administrators complete tasks such as data entry for credit card processing and reimbursements, King said during the February faculty meeting. The Faculty Research Management Services unit was created in August 2011, King said, and is intended to improve grant administration.
The University has had a shared services unit in the sciences for at least a decade — a Shared Service Science Branch that predated King’s arrival in 2006.