A&M, System sharing leaders
Chancellor takes action to save money
Published: Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 19:07
Big changes are taking place in the Texas A&M System's administrative ranks, and its flagship academic institution will be seeing significant reorganization in their wake.
Citing concerns over the current financial difficulties being experienced by other public universities, Michael McKinney, chancellor of the Texas A&M System, announced a series of position changes for administration officials at the University and system levels.
"We discovered that additional cost savings and efficiencies could be realized through several organizational changes between the flagship university and system offices," McKinney said in a letter released Jan. 13.
The "organizational changes" referred to by McKinney involve business information, information technology, communications, safety, facilities construction and treasury services. The Texas A&M System oversees 11 universities, a health-science center and seven government agencies.
Fearing that the economic recession's intensity would soon increase in Texas, the Board of Regents began considering prudent courses of action last February. A few months later, the Shared Services Initiative was announced. McKinney reiterated the purpose of the initiative.
"The goals of this endeavor were simple: to reduce costs, realize economies of scale, leverage expertise and expand shared resources," McKinney said.
Jason Cook, vice president for marketing and communications for the University, will be acting as Chief Communications Officer for the system. He occupies one of six new "chief officer" positions at the system level. Cook cited a history of informal shared services in justifying the changes.
"If you look at some of the events that happened at A&M Galveston when they had the sailboat sinking in 2005 and Hurricane Ike, we actually dispatched some of our communications people to go help them manage those incidents," Cook said. "We anticipate a very similar relationship … that we will be able to offer some additional resources from here at the flagship to go help [other system] campuses."
Cook also said this will not negatively affect the University.
"We cannot afford to let the flagship university of the system to be impacted in any way," Cook said. "If Texas A&M University is impacted, so are the system and the other system schools. I think everyone is cognizant of that fact."
This sentiment was reiterated by Student Body President Kolin Loveless.
"I'd say the effect on the student body will be minimal," Loveless said. "Universities are kind of notorious for having a lot of administrative overhead. I think it's better for them to go through this measure where they save a little money and double up some jobs than to have to do layoffs."
Two central concerns surfaced after Chancellor McKinney's announcement. With key officers under the supervision of both the chancellor of the system and president of the University, the issue of a competing chain of command required clarification. Loftin addressed this problem through a tangible source of authority: funding.
"What I've done is separate the budgeting operations … so that there is no question about who makes the decisions here," Loftin said. "Anything I feel is crucial to the University's functions, I've made clear."
The second issue involved the lack of student input in the process. Daniel Dick, chairman of the External Affairs Committee in the student senate, said "What students really want at this point -speaking of shared services - is shared governance. We want a seat at the table to voice our concerns."
Cook said students are not typically involved in decisions like this one.
"The shared services committees conducted a detailed analysis of many administrative operations," Cook said. "These administrative functions at the university and system level typically do not involve student participation, such as the processing of financial documents, purchasing of IT equipment and training of faculty and staff.
Loftin, who was not responsible for appointing the members on the investigation committees, said with or without consulting students, the changes are meant for the good of the student body.
"To the extent we saved money here, it will help us deal with future shortfalls that might impact you," Loftin said. "So the story is not 'will this impact you?' it's 'because of this maybe we won't impact you,' in terms of having to reduce what you get out of us - which is right class sizes, the best professors and the best [class] offerings."