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Administrative study begins
Partnership to cover costs

December 15, 1997

The University has embarked on an assessment of its administrative functions, funded by half a dozen Connecticut businesses that have longstanding ties to UConn.

The purpose of the study is to ensure that the functions provided at the University are as effective and efficient as they can be, in support of academic programs and student life.

The study evolved out of discussions between President Philip E. Austin and several key business leaders, aimed at strengthening the relationship between UConn and the state's business community.

"The fact that business came forward with this type of support suggests businesses know the state will not make progress without an even stronger public research university," says Austin."Some of the state's major firms are investing in this."

Each of the companies involved - Aetna, Fleet Bank, GE, Travelers, UTC and Xerox - employs a high number of UConn graduates and has been a significant donor to the University for some time.

The University has secured the higher education practice of Coopers & Lybrand to conduct the 16-week study. The consulting firm has an extensive list of clients among colleges and universities.

The study, which began December 1, will compare and contrast the University with peer institutions selected from among Research I, public land grant universities, and identify best practices that may be applicable to UConn. The peer institutions include: Colorado State, Iowa State, Penn State, Rutgers, the Universities of Arizona, Illinois-Urbana, Kentucky, Maryland-College Park, Massachusetts, Missouri-Columbia and West Virginia.

"Coopers & Lybrand will provide us with an independent assessment of our administration," says Wilbur Jones, vice president for business affairs and finance and institutional coordinator of the review."If they find we're efficient, that will get the message out so the public has more confidence in the University.

If they identify areas that need improvement, then we will immediately work to improve them and let the public know that we are committed to administrative efficiency."

The review will include all of the University's campuses except the Health Center, which recently undertook an administrative restructuring. The consultants will review nine administrative functions: financial management, purchasing and payables, computing and telecommunications, operation and maintenance of plant, auxiliary and business services, public safety, human resources and benefit administration, academic administration, and sponsored research administration.

Many of these functions include several different units of the University. Auxiliary and business services, for example, includes residential life, dining halls, Jorgensen Auditorium, parking and transportation, student health, and athletics.

Academic administration includes the administrative offices of department heads, deans, and the chancellor. It does not include academic programs, however, which are already undergoing a program assessment involving both internal and external peer review by academics, that grew out of the University's strategic plan.

Austin says the Coopers & Lybrand study is not about the University's academic mission."This is about how we run the place, rather than what we do," he says.

Each of the sponsoring corporations will be represented on a steering committee that will be kept informed of the study's progress, but will not be otherwise involved in the way the review is conducted or in its implementation.

The report is expected to be presented to President Austin in April. After that, the University will decide which recommendationsto adopt through its established governing process.

Will the review mean imposing business practices on an educational institution?

In an academic sense, says Austin, no."Our core mission is instruction and research and that's different from a for-profit business," he says.

"Coopers & Lybrand will establish benchmarks for us in comparison with peer higher education institutions," Jones notes. He says that if the study identifies best practices from business for administrative operations such as mail handling or bill paying, however, the University will consider whether those practices could work at UConn.

Austin makes it clear that the review is not about downsizing."This is not a smoke screen to justify outsourcing or privatization. It really is for the stated reason, to honestly learn how we compare. And if we can make improvements as a result, we will certainly consider doing so."

In turn, University officials hope for a better relationship with business and with the public.

"We want everyone to understand that UConn is an efficient place and demonstrate that we're prepared to subject ourselves to external scrutiny and willing to make changes," says Austin."We really want the public to know that they are getting a lot of social and educational value for their investment in this institution."

The hope is that this understanding will translate into greater financial support for the University, both from the state and from potential donors, says Austin."Donors want to invest in an institution that is well run, efficiently operated, and engaged in the pursuit of quality."

Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu