As administrators try to improve efficiency, faculty remain wary

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University President Steven Knapp has assembled a team of top administrators to cut down on red tape within GW this year.

Updated: Nov. 23, 2015 at 9:14 a.m.

Top administrators are trying to make GW easier to navigate.

University President Steven Knapp has assembled a group of vice presidents and deans, this year to increase responsiveness and improve offices within the University. Faculty said bureaucracy and severed communication between the administration and schools have been persistent issues, but they have not been consulted on the plans for this year’s focus.

Top faculty questioned the effectiveness of the council, saying it may add another layer of red tape instead of making things more efficient.

Anthony Yezer, a long-time economics professor, said there are issues at administrative and faculty levels that the University has made a conscious decision not to address, and he doesn’t think a task force can change the difference in priorities.

“They don’t do anything about it. So what more do they think they’re going to communicate with this?” Yezer said. “If there’s no spinach in the salad bar and the waitstaff knows that, then the restaurant owners know that, and they just don’t give a damn and don’t put more spinach at the salad bar.”

The group first met in October, when they decided to cut down bureaucracy, but have not met since.

“That really is about making our processes more efficient because we try to identify more bureaucratic obstacles and I think the way you do that is you get people together in a working group and you say, ‘What can we do to make things work better?’ And then you go after that,” Knapp said last month.

The number of administrators holding positions like vice provost and associate dean had grown by 44 percent between 2004 and 2012, which Faculty Senate members have said drives up costs and creates hurdles for every school to accomplish work.

GW also created the position of senior associate provost for international strategy last year. Other new positions over the past several years have included a vice provost for diversity and inclusion and a vice provost for budget and finance.

A goal of streamlining
University spokeswoman Candace Smith said the group has both “tactical and strategic goals.” She said they will make changes within the existing structure of GW, rather than starting any new initiatives.

“We hope to break down barriers and simplify processes,” she said.

Some of the focus areas are in the post-doctorate hiring process, streamlining the way in which new faculty are brought to GW and increasing more research across schools and internationally, goals that fall in line with the strategic plan.

The group also plans to simplify the processes for contracts within the University. GW signed 2,300 foreign scholarship and research contracts between 2007 and 2012.

Knapp also mentioned the work of the University’s top administrators on this topic during a Faculty Senate meeting last month, but didn’t refer to the group by its name. At the time, he encouraged faculty at the meeting to tell the deans of their schools about any administrative hurdles they thought were particularly difficult.

Officials have created small focus groups before to hone in on areas in the past, like on a task force on college affordability, a group planning sexual assault prevention projects and another charged with saving GW $60 million by the end of 2015.

Knapp highlighted the Innovation Task Force, which has so far reinvested $27 million and identified nearly $65 million in savings since it was created in 2009, as the key to the hiring of more than 170 faculty positions since he arrived at GW in 2007. Those hirings fit into the strategic plan goal of adding more faculty positions and research-minded faculty. Still, the ITF has not met since May 2014 and because of the startup costs associated with some of the projects, officials have had to lower their expectations for the group.

Knapp added that consolidating forces could make processes easier for students ‒ such as by combining department including the Career Services office and the Center for Student Engagement.

Faculty cast doubt
Last year’s council focused on changing University culture, Knapp said, which faculty said they were not aware of while the council was working on it last year.

Faculty members said they had not heard about the president’s council from their schools’ deans or through any other formal announcements. The council also does not have a website.

Donald Parsons, an economics professor and a member of the Faculty Senate’s finance committee, said he doubted the task force’s ability to effectively solve problems. He said members of the faculty and the administration differ on what they value within the University and on what the goals of the University should be.

Faculty and officials have clashed on the building of the $275 million Science and Engineering Hall since before construction began in 2011. After officials admitted last fall that they failed to fundraise what they had hoped for the building’s construction, faculty worried the high cost of the building – coupled with GW’s large debt load – could cripple academic growth in the future.

“It’s not a communication issue. It’s a values issue. The administration and the board have a massive building project going on. That means putting academic excellence into second gear, which is not the way faculty like to do it,” Parsons said.

Last year, as graduate enrollment numbers dropped below their expected levels, officials made 5 percent budget cuts across all administrative divisions. Departments and programs like music and creative writing have also felt the impact as budgets and adjunct faculty positions were slashed.

Harald Griesshammer, an associate physics professor and a member of the Faculty Senate, said something needs to be done about the “bureaucratic nightmare we are living in.”

He said research is complicated when he has to move through many channels within the University to get projects and grants approved. Vice President for Research Leo Chalupa has said in the past that he moved research staff into individual schools to give more support to faculty researchers.

Griesshammer added that with budget constraints last year, bureaucracy was added when some decision-making was moved all the way down the chain of command from central administrators into schools and even individual departments.

“The closer bureaucracy gets to you as an individual, the easier it is to handle. The downside is there’s no adequate amping up of resources on the departmental level,” Griesshammer said.

Charles Garris, an engineering professor and the chair of the Faculty Senate’s executive committee, echoed Griesshammer’s concerns, noting that reorganization of administration at the departmental level has eliminated administrative jobs and hired less-qualified people to work in those roles.

“So far at the departmental level it has been problematic,” Garris said. “Reducing bureaucracy especially at institutional level is what everybody would applaud but reducing bureaucracy at the departmental level is not always as easy as it seems.”

After spending nearly four decades at GW, finance professor Theodore Barnhill said that he knows communication between the administrators and individuals in schools could be smoothed, creating “a clear channel for communication.”

He said the University’s administration is “highly centralized,” which has led to a centralized budgetary model with money filtering through the main administration into schools, an example of heightened bureaucracy within the administration.

Last year GW introduced a new budget model that grants each school’s dean’s office $301 for every undergraduate student in a class, as well as 70 percent of any on-campus graduate students’ tuition dollars.

“I’m very much in favor of models where schools get to keep the bulk of money they generate and use it to pursue academic excellence,” Barnhill said.

Ryan Lasker contributed reporting.

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that the Innovation Task Force has identified $65 in savings. That number is, of course, nearly $65 million. We regret this error.

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