The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Opinion

June 18, 2014

Looking for far more specifics on efficiency study

In the recently released update for its efficiency study of the Iowa regent system, Deloitte Consulting managed to dish out a softer stew of pabulum than we expected — and we already expected mush.

The Iowa state Board of Regents have contracted with Deloitte to conduct a $3.45 million efficiency review of Iowa’s three public universities. The hope/promise/plan is that the consultant group — after meeting with hundreds of faculty, staff and administrators at the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa — will come up with saving opportunities equal to multiple times the price tag for their services. And Regent President Bruce Rastetter said that any savings coming as a result of Deloitte’s recommendations would be reinvested in the university from which they originated.

Yet the four-page update released Wednesday — which is supposed to summarize the past 10 weeks in which Deloitte has visited each campus twice and met with nearly 700 individuals across the system — is so generic in its analysis and diagnosis that it’s hard to critique.

The consultants — whose contract was just expanded to ensure that their work will extend beyond the summer — identified 10 major themes in their interviews. They’ve narrowed that list and are proposing to focus on the following areas during the next phase of the review:

n Improving purchasing practices.

n Enhancing “competitiveness” among academic programs and broadening “non-traditional student access through Distance Education.”

n Figuring out ways to “optimize how IT services are provided.”

n Exploring new ways to use facilities more effectively and to improve building usage rates.

n Finding ways to simplify the delivery of finance services.

n Optimizing how HR services are provided.

n Evaluating whether future students would benefit from developing a common application portal across the three universities.

Based solely on this four-page update, it would seem that any halfway-informed senior academic administrator could have written such boilerplate content in a few days — without having attended campus meetings or doing any on-site research. Nearly all the summaries of the themes include variations on the vaguely worded phrases “organizations within each university have been proactive in identifying savings opportunities” and “there appears to be opportunities to realize additional savings.”

Without any specifics either about what the universities already have done well or about which additional “opportunities” are most likely, the report offers nothing to calm the worst-case worries of those concerned about how such a system-wide review will affect the academic quality — and individual culture — of each of the three universities.

Looks like we’ll have to lower our expectations even further for Phase II of this study.

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