The Daily Tar Heel

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Friday December 9th

Counting toward an efficient University

Remember Carolina Counts?

I’ll jog your memory: Chancellor Holden Thorp brings donor-funded consultants to campus — the “men in suits,” in his 2009 (Raleigh) News & Observer op-ed ­— to see if UNC could operate more efficiently.

A few months later the Bain & Co. consultants deliver a pretty reasonable report, tempering some of the backlash from academics, and then transfer the reins for implementing the ideas to UNC.
That was more than two years ago, and the efficiency drive has flown under the radar ever since.
It’s no surprise that procurement initiatives and workload analysis can’t compete with sexier topics like football scandals.

But it’s a shame, because it’s important work, and implementing it should be a proud priority for UNC. More importantly, it has the potential to keep this University healthy into the future, and it’s a great response to those who view this institution as a “bloated bureaucracy.”

Carolina Counts — the implementation plan — is run by Mike Patil, who works from an office on Franklin Street with a few temporary staff. There he’s responsible for getting analyses to the various senior administrators championing the projects and for following up on the original Bain study recommendations.

Those include reducing overlap in administrative functions, streamlining operations and simplifying unnecessary bureaucracy to free up money for the University’s primary mission. As Patil puts it: “How can we save some money here and hire one more faculty member?”

That was the idea, at least. Since the Bain report arrived, there have been some hiccups, such as targets missed due to a champion leaving for another university and disagreement over which of the Bain ideas should apply to the public university. (Combining research centers, for example, was one idea on which there’s consensus that the consultants missed the mark.)

Likewise, the massive budget cuts of the past two years have left some of the efficiency drive less about redirecting resources elsewhere for better uses than simply learning to manage with less.
But there is still high potential. Different departments purchase similar items — from office supplies to test tubes — independently, through thousands of suppliers. Negotiating bulk purchases has saved UNC more than $2.1 million already. And there are other strategies already in effect, in structuring IT services, for example.

Our chancellor certainly thinks Carolina Counts matters ­­— he meets with the team every two weeks to assess progress. And in a time of budget cuts, efficiency is a good message to take to a conservative legislature.

How better to respond to the John Locke Foundation and others who have for years attacked UNC as overly bureaucratic?

There are limits to efficiency — no one wants to cheapen teaching or research at this University. But if the focus is on being the best stewards of public funds, we should be proud to lead the way.

Back in 2009, our Bain study caught the eyes of higher education administrators nationally. That’s better than just being known as the university with the football scandal.

Mark Laichena is a senior political science and PWAD major from London, U.K. Contact him at laichena@gmail.com.

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