In the freshly painted Franklin Street offices of Carolina Counts, three consultants are crunching data on UNC’s operations. Their mission: spend January and February there to try and save UNC millions of dollars that can be rerouted to education and research.
They are employees of Bain & Co., the same consulting firm that presented a review of the University’s operations in July. Its report presented a highly critical analysis of the bureaucracy inherent in the University’s many layers — and focused on specific areas where UNC could be more efficient.
If all of the recommendations are implemented, the University estimates it could save $66 million per year during the next five years, though officials are quick to say they are more concerned about maintaining academics and research than in slashing budgets.
Areas and “Champions”
-Space planning and utilization – Bruce Runberg, associate vice chancellor for facilities planning
-Centers and institutes – Ron Strauss, executive associate provost
-Energy services – Carolyn Elfland, associate vice chancellor for campus services
-Facilities and campus services – Richard Mann, vice chancellor for finance and administration
-Finance – Roger Patterson, associate vice chancellor for finance
-Human resources – Brenda Malone, vice chancellor for human resources
-Information technology – Larry Conrad, vice chancellor for information technology and chief information officer
-Organizational strategy and layers – Bruce Carney, interim executive vice chancellor and provost
-Procurement – Richard Mann, vice chancellor for finance and administration
-Research support and compliance – Tony Waldrop, vice chancellor for research and economic development
One consultant is mining data on procurement — how UNC gets everything from toner ink to desks. Another is doing the same for information technology and a third is dealing with UNC’s centers and institutes.
Bain sent the three consultants to get started with the Carolina Counts team, led by special assistant to the chancellor for planning and initiatives Joe Templeton. Their work is without cost to the University, and isn’t part of Bain’s original obligation to UNC.
They have been given those tasks because the Carolina Counts staff consider the full-time effort they can spend analyzing data is most useful in those three fields.
“Having three Bain people in the office really energized things in a good way,” Templeton said.
The Bain study at UNC was funded by an anonymous donor for an undisclosed amount. Bain is paying for its consultants to continue implementing the project because it considers UNC of strategic importance.
UNC was the first of several universities to ask Bain to help them self-evaluate. The University of California-Berkeley paid $3 million for a similar study in October. Cornell University also conducted a study.
The anonymous donation to UNC didn’t include $300,000 from the chancellor’s budget to run the Carolina Counts office, which employs Mike Patil as its full-time director and Jeff Johnston on a temporary basis. The office is looking to hire another full-time employee.
Patil is paid a supplement of $25,000 per year for his work on the project, and Templeton’s nine-month faculty contract is extended for an additional seven weeks, resulting in a salary bonus of $30,000.
So far, a lot of what the Carolina Counts staff has done is in planning and salesmanship.
Key stakeholders, such as the staff whose jobs might be affected, had to be consulted. Templeton and Patil had to argue that academic departments would be protected during the implementation. And the team had to figure out what was already being done and find a way to keep track of projects as they were ongoing.
After keeping tight-lipped on the source and amount of funding, UNC administrators have been carefully transparent, posting Bain’s recommendations online and providing periodic updates on the process.
Carolina Counts is maintaining a Web site to keep those who are interested up to date. Of the 134 current projects, 14 are marked as completed and another 18 are under way.
The team met with top UNC administrators — “champions” in Carolina Counts parlance — for the first time Jan. 8 and were joined by Thorp.
But while UNC is busy honing its cost-cutting strategies, some staff members are nervous about the implications, and the Carolina Counts staff is struggling to explain how the projects will affect them.
“I want them to find ways to save money rather than getting rid of people’s jobs while maintaining the core academic and research functions,” Employee Forum chairman Tommy Griffin said.
Griffin added that the difficult job market makes staff more nervous, but that he appreciates the transparency of Carolina Counts.
“If you’re an employee and the economy is as bad as it is, it’s easy to see how you could worry about what we’re doing,” Templeton said. He added, though, that he understands their concerns. “We’re trying to make efficiencies and people are losing their jobs. Those are simultaneous events, but they’re not directly related to Carolina Counts.”
Acting on advice from the Bain report, the Health Sciences Library was consolidated into the main UNC library system earlier this month. The move is likely to bring layoffs, Interim Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Bruce Carney said.
Patil said the consolidation is an example of a department taking initiative to act on Bain’s recommendations, and that their office didn’t have any input into that decision.
While implementation is in beginning stages, Patil said he hopes the effort extends into the cultural fabric of the University.
“My personal intent is to make this the culture of North Carolina, that we keep looking at ourselves and keep improving,” he said.
The problem with explaining what Carolina Counts is doing is that the areas they’re working on get complicated quickly.
Take procurement. The University buys various products from dozens of vendors, though only a few get the largest share of business.
Multiply small problems — trying to cut costs while fulfilling individual requests through specific vendors — by the thousands of orders the University makes on behalf of its students, faculty and staff, and the job becomes immense.
To combat that, the consultants are sifting through the departmental data on what is ordered and by whom. UNC plans to collaborate with N.C. State University to create a Web-based electronic order form that funnels standard requests through a central vendor or set of vendors, while allowing other requests as well.
Information Technology represents an area that is likely to yield the most immediate improvements.
The number of printers, faxes and copiers can be consolidated as they are replaced. Administration of certain components of IT is easy to centralize and troubleshoot.
The problem is that UNC isn’t quite sure where to start.
In order to better address the problem, Carolina Counts has one of the consultants surveying individual academic and administrative units to determine the way information technology is utilized.
Information Technology equipment is easier to update than other business components like human relations or finance. Computers and fax machines are new and fancier. Phones only need a phone call to replace.
Centers and Institutes
While figuring out how to make the various areas more efficient is difficult, UNC officials have bigger problems with centers and institutes.
For starters, they don’t know how many there are at UNC.
Broadly, a “center” or “institute” is a cross-disciplinary unit that supports faculty and staff working on a particular issue. The vague definition allows academic departments to trumpet their importance, like the Institute of Outdoor Drama, even when these are dependent on legislative funding. Others don’t fit UNC’s definition of the mission for a center or institute, such as the N.C. High School Athletic Association.
None of this mattered until the N.C. legislature started cutting its budget for UNC-system centers and institutes.
The N.C. budget mandates that UNC’s academic centers and institutes cut their budgets by $4.6 million, and centers for health affairs cut $1.2 million.
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