GW eyes faculty for consulting jobs

After paying outside companies millions of dollars to consult on everything from land deals to legal contracts, the University also will tap those who know GW best – for less money.

GW will enlist professors, staff and alumni to help chip away at consulting costs, giving administrators paid advice on topics like finance, law and engineering.

The provost’s office and faculty leaders are pinpointing areas of expertise to put to use, with interest from about 60 percent of the 488 professors who responded to a survey last month.

The University would pay the in-house consultants, like a civil engineering professor who could design a building instead of an outside firm, or a finance professor on whether to make a real estate buy, slightly less than outside companies.

Information systems professor Edward Cherian, who has steered the project since last January, said hypothetically GW could pay a professor $200 a day on a project that companies would charge $300 per day.

“The concept says that we have smart people at the University on faculty, and with staff and alumni as well as in the community, that have the skills we need,” Cherian said.

Born out of the Innovation Task Force, a cost-cutting strategy group that funnels savings toward academics, the in-house consulting would save an estimated $200,000 yearly – less than 1 percent of the $30 million GW spends on consulting services annually.

The provost’s office is identifying areas of interest from professors through a follow-up survey, which will then drive an administrative review of GW’s last two years of consulting expenditures and match professors to these areas of speciality.

The University will focus at first on full-time, tenured faculty because “younger faculty are working on research projects in order to get tenured or to get grants and we don’t want them to divert those energies,” Cherian said.

But there could be hangups with the plan, he said, stressing that he is focused on creating safeguards to avoid conflicts of interest.

“A professor can’t be hired to do something in an office where he’ll have a bias,” Cherian said.

Engineering professor Charles Garris, who chairs the Faculty Senate’s professional ethics and academic freedom committee, said he was not concerned about conflict of interest that would arise as long as the University leans on professors’ advice that is “outside the normal scope of academic duties.”

For example, he said “there would be no conflict of interest if the faculty member were hired by GW to write the contract, provided that the faculty member did not hold an administrative decision-making role connected to the consulting job,” he said.

ITF co-chairs Craig Linebaugh and Dave Lawlor said in a joint email statement that the consulting project will also contribute to “creating and strengthening a culture of innovation.”

“Leveraging the skills, capabilities, and interests of GW’s faculty, staff and students is of tremendous value to the university’s mission,” they said.

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