External review prompts budgeting process reform

After an external review of the administrative structure last spring found widespread dissatisfaction among faculty, staff and departmental agencies, the Office of the President has launched new initiatives to rethink the structure of the budgeting process to advance the goals of President Christina’s 2014 strategic plan, “Building on Distinction.”

“I’ve asked Vicki Colvin to work with the (University Resources Committee) to reform the budgeting process so that thoughtful decisions can be made about the best way to adjust our operations to strengthen our financial position and support the goal of the strategic plan,” Paxson wrote in a letter sent to faculty and staff Aug. 15.

“People feel disappointed by the results” of the budgetary process, said Beppie Huidekoper, executive vice president for finance and administration. “I think people are frustrated because they make requests for additional resources and very frequently don’t get them,” she said, adding that the University is “tight on resources.”

The last academic year’s budget deficit was $8.8 million.

The review was conducted by an outside consultant to analyze the organizational structure in light of the goals of the new strategic plan, Huidekoper said. “I think (the president) made it more explicit that the provost is ultimately responsible for developing and advising on overall budgetary issues.”

Provost Vicki Colvin said that she has three main goals for improving the budgeting process: introducing a new culture of planning that includes focusing on long-term considerations, encouraging organizational units to rethink approach to resources and changing the structure of the URC meetings — a group that meets several times a year to discuss the budget.

“What our faculty need today is very different from what they may have needed ten or twenty years ago,” Colvin said, citing a new electronic system for managing financial transactions and a need for social media staff as examples of the developing areas of investment.

Colvin has changed the structure of URC meetings to “create an active discussion,” she said, adding that she accomplished this by reducing presentation time and making meetings more interactive.

A recent meeting was held in a computer lab to familiarize committee members with budget models, Colvin said. “I gave them challenges for how they would balance the budget in three years, five years,” she said.

“There’s been a pretty dramatic change in the way our meetings are running,” said committee member Gregory Chatzinoff ’15. “Most of our discussions last year were focused on what next year’s budget was going to be, now we’re focused on what the budget will be in five years.”

While committee member Justice Gaines ’16 said that the committee was “very interactive throughout the whole meeting and (was) able to make more productive conversation,” he added that the committee still feels “separated from the rest of the rest of the University community.”

Huidekoper said that while the URC is “very influential,” “it is not the final decision making body,” adding that the President ultimately determines the finalized budget.

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