This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

FSEC offers input on improving academic support services

Published: November 11, 2004

Contributing Editor

Some UB faculty members had an opportunity yesterday to complain about campus bureaucracy and inefficiency to a captive audience that thanked them afterward for their remarks.

AVCOR Consulting, the firm the university has hired to provide guidance and to facilitate the UB 2020 academic planning process, asked members of the Faculty Senate Executive Committee for their input on improving efficiency at UB; specifically, what would make their jobs easier in terms of day-to-day university operations. Their feedback will be forwarded to the Academic Support Planning Committee, one of two major committees involved in the planning effort.

AVCOR representative Steven Cerne asked those present to tell him "what do you believe are the greatest opportunities for improvement in quality, effectiveness and efficiency in regards to processes, or technologies, or any of the academic-support areas that you deal with...besides your direct teaching and research work, all the things that have to happen in order for you to do your jobs?"

AVCOR provided guidance during strategic planning at the University of California, Santa Cruz during President John B. Simpson's tenure there as campus provost and executive vice chancellor.

FSEC members were not at a loss when it came to naming problem areas at UB, but they also offered many ideas for improving operations.

One area that generated much discussion was the Student Response Center, which faculty said needs to improve its communication with, and handling of, departmental requests.

Paul N. Balzano, student affairs director for the undergraduate Student Association who regularly attends the FSEC meetings as an observer, articulated his and classmates' less-than-satisfactory experiences with the center.

"They just redid (redecorated) it and it looks really nice, but it's miserable. You wait an hour and a half to literally just sign your financial aid checks," Balzano said.

He also agreed with the suggestion that dates, times and locations of final exams be determined at the same time class schedules are completed.

William H. Baumer, professor of philosophy and parliamentarian for the Faculty Senate, recalled that as a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin 47 years ago, "when you got your class schedule, you got your final exams schedule.

"There is no reason why, when the class schedule is put together for a semester, that the schedulers cannot concurrently schedule final exams for those classes," Baumer said. "There is no excuse for not doing that, and it is a complication that gets students upset and gets faculty upset."

Balzano added that knowing dates of final exams at the beginning of a semester is crucial for out-of-town students to schedule flights home during breaks.

"For students, that's something that we should expect," he said. "We should expect that when we register for a class, we know not everything about the class, but the syllabus should be available online for us so we know pretty much exactly what we're getting into. Giving information to students as soon as possible and having things available for students online makes it phenomenally easier for us to get anything done."

Other suggestions by the FSEC included:

  • Making UB more user-friendly for students with disabilities

  • Coordinating advertisements and other aspects of the job-recruitment process to reduce costs and standardize language

  • Improving the accessibility and processing of timesheets and personnel transaction forms

  • Revamping the classroom-scheduling process so that it better fulfills space demands and academic requirements of courses

  • Upgrading administrative software and installing Web-based scheduling software

  • Redesigning the business Web site and improving its compatibility with campus computers

  • Creating a database of equipment purchased for specific UB projects that is still in good condition but no longer used

  • Increasing campus communications via a university-wide Intranet

  • Expanding hours, access to and staffing for support services to better accommodate students and staff working before and after regular business hours

  • Requiring the state, research foundation and UB Foundation to share information on employees to reduce paperwork

  • Eliminating waste in printing, especially in the UB Libraries

  • Tracking student application fees to ensure they are forwarded to appropriate departments

  • Decreasing the number of maintenance workers required to perform a single job

  • Regulating cooling and heating of all campus buildings to improve efficiency

  • Establishing research mentors to assist in training new clinical faculty members

  • Standardizing timelines on when faculty and staff should receive replacement computers

The executive committee also heard from Robert J. Genco, interim vice president of research, who outlined the objectives of a task force being formed to evaluate UB centers and institutes. The task force—comprised of faculty, researchers and administrators—will be formulating recommendations regarding proposing and funding of future centers, evaluating current ones and weaning, or "sunsetting," established centers from university support.

Genco said that 15-20 of UB's 100 centers and institutes receive "central" financial support from the university, ranging from $18,000 to $5 million per year, and that UB will look at decreasing the number of centrally supported centers in order to offer funding to newer, and perhaps smaller, ones. This may be accomplished by setting a policy limiting the number of years centers can receive such funding, he added.

"The way to look at it is: this is seeding, initial funding and not continuous funding, with the caveat that there may be certain centers that really need certain funding, maybe some continuous funding, that don't have the opportunity to raise the kinds of funds that the earthquake center raises—tens of millions of dollars every year," Genco said. "Many activities that occur at this university have absolutely no opportunity to raise those funds, but also could be very good with 10 or 20 or $30,000. I envision this as a pot of money and every year, there is new blood coming in. The really successful centers won't need the funds anymore and so will be "sunsetted" in terms of support."