Business faculty seek more sway over spending decisions

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The analytics master's program in the GW School of Business has seen its enrollment nearly double since its creation two years ago. Business school dean Linda Livingstone said the program's niche classes in areas like data mining are "a really hot area right now.”

Media Credit: Zach Montellaro | Hatchet Staff Photographer
Since the University fired former business school dean Doug Guthrie, some faculty have said that budgeting has become a sensitive topic in Duques Hall.

Top business school faculty will ask their new dean for more control over the school’s budget in hopes that stronger checks will prevent another massive overspending, like the discrepancy that led to the ousting of their previous leader.

When a new dean arrives this fall, professors will lobby for department chairs to have more say over day-to-day expenses and make spending limits on the school’s roughly $60 million budget more transparent.

When Doug Guthrie’s tenure began in 2010, officials in the dean’s office kept decisions largely under wraps and did not allow departments to plan how much they spent on new hires or classroom upgrades. But after University officials realized when it closed the books last year that the school overspent by $13 million, professors began demanding increased oversight.

Chairs say the change would mean they’d no longer have to resort to tallying spending in their own Excel spreadsheets and would help them identify potential problems earlier.

“Department chairs can see things that the dean’s suite cannot, and hence serve as a more direct monitor,” said Angela Gore, chair of the accounting department.

While the school’s day-to-day operations have remained largely the same, finance department chair Robert Van Order said the school has been stuck in a “holding period” as it waits for GW to choose the new dean. Several faculty members said they expect the announcement by the end of the month.

Since Guthrie was fired, Van Order said budgeting has become a sensitive topic in Duques Hall. He said more department control over budgeting decisions would allow him to expand faculty next year.

“I think the first order of business will be to budget how much is there going forward, for hiring new faculty, for research,” he said. “The immediate issue is certainly about a budget.”

The search committee’s job description read that “budgeting experience is strongly desired.”

Van Order said the dean finalists he met during their visits to campus in March and April had starkly different proposals for addressing budget issues. Some presented top-down reforms, while others said they would base their plans on faculty input.

Provost Steven Lerman said either centralizing budgeting in the dean’s office or dispersing power to department chairs would be effective at a medium-sized business school like GW’s. He said a larger school would require a department-based system.

“The next dean will have to determine based on his or her experiences and understanding of the business school what the right way to do budgeting is,” he said in an interview.

The Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, which boasts 42 departments, gives chairs direct oversight over their budgets because the number of programs creates too many moving parts, Lerman said.

In the law school, which doesn’t break down into departments, the dean’s office has complete control over the budget. Lerman said the Graduate School of Education and Human Development could also move in a more top-down direction over the next several years.

Interim dean Christopher Kayes declined to comment or sit for an interview to discuss the school’s budget for next year, or how last year’s overspending will impact future cuts.

More controls allows faculty leaders to know which types of investments they can make, said Clay Warren, chair of the Columbian College’s organizational sciences and communication department.

“We review our budget every month and we gauge our expenditures,” he said. “We know what we’re planning for the year, but also each month, so we can see if we are on target, ahead, behind.”

Finance officials discovered the business school had overspent by millions of dollars last summer, and professors said the school should have caught the widespread error earlier. The misstep, they said, was a red flag that the system had no emergency checks.

Each school’s dean meets regularly with top administrators and financial officers, as well as their own finance directors, to make spending decisions and review their quarterly budgets.

Business faculty have said that every department had to make all spending requests through the dean’s office under Guthrie. He drafted a proposal in 2011 to “shift to a model that offers greater operational efficiency and the flexibility and agility to implement this five-year business plan.”

A former chair, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said departments had to decline their faculty’s “reasonable requests” because they did not manage their own budgets.

The former chair said Linda Livingstone, dean of the Graziadio Business School at Pepperdine University and GW’s only female dean candidate, thought the school’s budgeting problems would need to be solved in Rice Hall, and she did not address whether departments would have their own budgets.

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