This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Panel focuses on academic support

Work is key to "UB 2020"plan

Published: November 4, 2004

Assistant Vice President

For More Information

go to the UB2020 website

As part of the "UB 2020" planning effort designed to develop for UB a master strategy focusing on the achievement of academic excellence, a major initiative is underway to identify, quantify and develop a baseline understanding of the academic support services, campus policies, business processes and other support systems provided across the university in support of the academic enterprise.


The work is being conducted by four operational teams of 50 individuals who are analyzing, mapping and benchmarking data, and who will be interviewing more than 700 individuals from academic and divisional units providing support services. In addition, more than 150 faculty and staff are involved in the effort to identify operational costs in, and services provided by, academic and academic-support departments.

The goal of examining services provided at the unit level in support of UB's academic enterprise is to understand better the university as a whole and to identify ways in which services can be provided more effectively and efficiently. Among common areas being examined at the unit level are purchasing, information technology, human resources and financial services.

The work of the Academic Support Planning Committee, focusing on the processes, systems and funding that supports the university's academic endeavors, is occurring concurrent with that of a sister Academic Planning Committee creating a strategic academic master plan. The committees were established this semester by President John B. Simpson in conjunction with the "UB 2020" strategic planning process that began earlier this year, and are scheduled to issue preliminary reports before the end of December.

The planning process began earlier this year when Simpson requested that vice presidents, deans and vice provosts analyze the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in their respective areas. In addition, deans were asked to identify academic strengths within their schools and vice presidents were engaged in examining UB's institutional goals. Simpson and Satish K. Tripathi, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, then met in July with a group of deans, faculty members and administrators in a daylong institutional planning retreat focused on pinpointing academic strengths across the university and across the disciplines.

The ongoing effort with the two new committees in place will focus on refining and developing the university's strategic strengths. A set of goals and objectives will be developed for each strength, along with a timeline for achieving them.

"UB 2020" will focus on identifying organizational support, funding and actions required at the decanal and school level to support the development of each area. The Academic Support Planning Committee will assess operations, processes and systems that are in place to support the university's academic programs and identify gaps, inefficiencies and redundancies/duplication.

James A. (Beau) Willis, chief of staff in the Office of the President, who heads the Academic Support Planning Committee as interim executive vice president for finance and operations, says it is "trying to understand our academic support environment."

"We are trying to get an accurate financial picture of the campus at the departmental level," Willis explained. "We are trying to understand at that level what services we provide and where we provide them, and develop a general sense of the quality with which they are provided, toward the end of identifying areas where we may have gaps in services or areas where there may be opportunities for improvement."

Willis adds: "The overall objective of 'UB 2020' is to give ourselves a clear set of academic goals and an understanding of the academic-support infrastructure that needs to be in place to achieve those goals."

Information about the strategic planning process is available at ub2020. The Web site also provides an opportunity for members of the university community and others to provide feedback to the committees.

The Academic Support Planning Committee's work is being conducted by four operational assessment teams.

The identification of revenues and costs at the departmental unit is being overseen by a Revenue and Cost Decomposition Team. The Service Mapping Team is identifying the wide range of services provided by units and the costs associated with them. The Metrics and Benchmarking Team is identifying for comparison appropriate service, cost and revenue benchmarks from other institutions and organizations. The Workshops and Interviews Team is conducting structured interviews and discussion sessions with various campus groups to identify areas of opportunity for improvement in quality, efficiency and effectiveness.

E. Bruce Pitman, associate dean for research and sponsored programs, and professor of mathematics in the College of Arts and Sciences, who is overseeing the Service Mapping Team, stresses the importance of the interviews, as well as an email survey to be conducted this month.

"They will be engaging campus constituents, engaging alumni and others off campus," Pitman says. "It's real important that we get first-hand feedback from people and that this is not just a data-driven process."

The overall goal is to develop an understanding of UB's operational environment at an institutional level. "UB is organized around school and divisional lines and what this is trying to do is to begin to get at an institutional level a picture across those schools," notes Willis.

Adds Kevin Seitz, vice president of university services and a member of the committee: "This will be the first map of the landscape at an institutional level."

Michael F. Levine, associate vice president and controller who heads the team focusing on identifying operational costs, says the university "has been looking for a way to provide this kind of information for years."

"The end result," he notes, "will be a profile of units that they have looked at and are comfortable with showing revenues, expenditures broken down into categories."

"This has been a great exercise; no one has been able to put their fingers on this information. I think it's going to change how units manage their financial information."

Levine says that "most of the units have done their first review and we are in the process in responding to more than 450 email communications with unit representatives."

Martha Barton, CAS associate dean for resource management, says she believes representatives of academic and support units feel very positive about the process.

"It's getting everybody involved at all levels; it's not something being done just from the top down. I think everybody feels they are part of the process," Barton says. "I think everyone on all of the committees has really gone out of their way to make the process as easy as possible for the units and to make themselves as accessible as possible to answer questions that the units have.

"There have been a lot of changes at the university over many years and the financial accounts didn't necessarily keep up with those changes," she says. "This is an opportunity to get things realigned to where they belong with the way the university currently is organized."

Paul Goodman, associate dean for fiscal management in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and a 25-year UB employee, notes that with the work of the Academic Support Planning Committee, "We're looking at services in a way that we haven't since I've been here."

"We are looking at things horizontally," he adds. "We know human resource services occur in departments as well as at the university level; we are taking a horizontal cut. I think it's a refreshing change to be taking a look at how these services are delivered, given a horizontal review of the organization. Services tend to proliferate in a way you don't plan at a large university and UB is no different. And I think it's a positive thing to do this kind of review."

Goodman says the analysis also is including work done by faculty members, which traditionally may not be recognized as "administrative."

"We now are making clear the administrative work the rank-and-file faculty put in; not just the chairs and associate chairs, but faculty members who actively participate in recruitment, advisement, university-level committees, searches," he says. "There are just a host of administrative activities in which faculty are involved."

Elias Eldayrie, associate vice president for information technology, notes that the information that's being gathered through the four operational teams "is just Phase One of a multi-phase process. When we collect the information, only then will we know what additional questions we will be asking, what direction we will need to go in next."