Knapp aims to boost efficiency, increase funds

The University plans to increase its investment in research and academic programs by an additional $60 million each year for the next five years in its quest to become a top-tier institution, University President Steven Knapp announced Friday morning.

Speaking at the University’s Board of Trustees meeting, Knapp said the $60 million would come from fundraising and multi-million dollar savings from changes to the University’s administrative and academic functions to be brainstormed by a new Innovation Task Force. The University receives about $60 million every year from its endowment, and Knapp said the additional $60 million would allow the University to “effectively double the endowment’s impact” without having to wait to double the endowment itself.

“The University’s selectivity has improved so dramatically that there is only incremental progress to be made there,” Knapp said in an interview on Sunday. “What can we do to take a leap forward? We can close the gap [in research and improve academic programs].”

He added, “It’s kind of a bold idea. This could have a huge impact.”

Trustee Raymond Oglethorpe first presented Knapp with the idea to make University processes more efficient now, when the University was in relatively good financial standing, so drastic budget cuts would not have to be made in the future, Knapp said.

The president, along with other University officials, will look for ways to save by launching the Innovation Task Force, designed to evaluate the University’s budget and ensure funds are being used in the most efficient ways without resorting to cutting programs randomly or desperately.

“The idea is to make sure funds are put to the best possible use. That should do three things: help us reduce unnecessary costs, help us avoid unnecessary costs in the future, and help us make sure we are spending the money we do spend as wisely as possible,” Knapp said in an e-mail on Friday. “We are still working on the specific targets and will have a much better idea of what is possible once the Task Force gets to work.”

While other private universities have frozen hiring and salaries and cut programs and sports teams, GW hired more professors last year and increased student aid during the recession. Financial administrators said GW was spared from needing to take drastic measures because the University relies heavily on tuition for its operating budget – rather than the endowments that plunged with the stock market last fall.

“The best time to do this is when it can be done in a thoughtful, collaborative way, with lots of input from across the University community,” Knapp said. “Other universities have had to make sudden, across-the-board cuts, but we are in the fortunate position of being able to look closely and carefully at the ways we do business.”

Knapp said the task force is looking for innovative ideas like Colonial Central, which centralized student services and freed valuable Foggy Bottom office space, and adding motion sensors for lights to reduce energy costs.

Associate Vice President for Academic Operations Jeff Lenn will to chair the Innovation Task Force and the 36 current members of the task force already met on Oct. 13 to brainstorm ideas.

“The first meeting was a brainstorming session for members of the group to get to know each other, to solicit ideas about where we excel at GW in the academic enterprise, and to start to suggest where improvements might be made regarding allocation of resources,” said Associate Vice President for Graduate Studies and co-chair of the Learning working group Dianne Martin.

The task force is broken into one steering committee, chaired by Lenn, and two working groups, one to focus on reevaluating academic pursuits, called the Learning group, and one to focus on business functions, called the Business Processes group. Martin co-chairs the Learning group with Chief Information Officer Dave Steinour and the Business Processes group will be led by Senior Associate Vice President for Finance Dave Lawlor and Director of Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration Kathy Newcomer.

“The Business Processes group is looking at the administrative and operational side of the University,” Martin said. “The Learning group is looking at the academic enterprise of GW to include research, teaching and learning.”

Knapp said he wanted “cross-fertilization” on both committees so the Business Processes group will include academics and the Learning group includes administrators.

The Innovation Task Force will launch a Web site in November to receive suggestions from the GW community and also plans to hold town hall meetings. Individuals can e-mail innovation@gwu.edu now if they have suggestions. By February, the task force hopes to have some specific ideas of where cuts can occur, according to documents given out at the Board of Trustees meeting.

The expectation is that the Board will receive suggestions in May with the potential areas for cuts and the “vetted [ideas will] move toward implementation” in June 2010, according to Board documents.

While the plan, Knapp said, is for the committee to be dissolved after one year, he hopes that suggestions from the Task Force will immediately aid the University.

This new initiative aims to help GW become a “top-tier” university able to compete with other private research universities. The National Science Foundation report, published Oct. 1, placed GW at 103rd on its Survey of Research and Development Expenditures at Universities and Colleges. Knapp came to GW from the provost position of the longtime holder of the No. 1 spot, John Hopkins University.

At the Board meeting, Vice President for Research Leo Chalupa presented six areas in which GW will focus its research and fundraising effort: autism, computation biology, science policy, sustainability, neglected diseases and energy.

Chairman of the Board Russell Ramsey described Chalupa’s efforts to increase GW’s research as “hitting the ground running,” saying Chalupa has transformed GW’s research culture and even referenced ’90s rap star MC Hammer’s “Hammer Time.”

“It’s Leo-time,” Ramsey said.

Sarah Scire contributed to this report.

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