Hay memo reaction: Are UA Transformation savings actually a lot lower than advertised?

"Guys, I've got this great idea..."

By Shain Bergan

Fresh news as of about an hour ago. There’s a lot to go through and very few links. Bear with me.

University of Arizona Provost Meredith Hay just released a campus wide email memo (that can be seen in whole at the bottom of this post) stressing the importance of the continuing of the UA Transformation Process, especially in the difficult financial times the city, state and country find themselves in.

The memo itself is nothing really earthshattering—pretty much just a status update on the Transformation as a whole in order to keep up appearances (after all, UA President Robert Shelton loves to bring up such things in leadership meetings and town halls to show that the UA upper administration is keeping up communications with the campus).

But there are a few lines here and there that just don’t seem to fit. They seem to be separate from the setting and attitude portrayed by what is said, rather perhaps focusing on how it’s said. Not only that; the tone of the memo seems to be rather defensive, almost as if the memo’s existence itself is an administrative reaction to the campus’ tension against department/school consolidations, differential fees and rising tuition. What does it mean? Maybe nothing. What might it mean?

The UA administration is really feeling the heat (yes, from people like this, but also from Average Joe students and staff who have to read about this stuff all the time and have likely formed an unfavorable opinion of the administration’s handling of the Transformation Process) from those criticizing the Transformation, and they finally feel obligated to respond to it, after ignoring it with a “father knows best” attitude for so long.

The line that really caught our attention, right between the provost going on about setting priorities in an unstable economy and the list of consolidations and creations:

“During this phase of budget anxiety, the discussions of the financial implications of the Transformation Plan are overshadowing its advantages. With the changes we implemented last year and the new changes from this year, the reorganizations include:”

On the surface, it says, “Don’t worry. I know the campus is stressed out about this, but the advantages outweigh the costs.”

Not much of a remarkable comment at first, but the thing that is worth noting is that, and correct me if I’m wrong here, this is the first time the administration has admitted that (a) the university is stressed out by the Transformation Plan, enough so that it’s not just a small minority, and (b) there are financial implications.

Now, the administration always talks about how the current times are tough for those on campus because of the cuts being made and the tuition being raised, but they have always stopped short of saying it is because of the Transformation, that the Transformation itself is the starting point for a lot of freaked out students and staff (they instead usually say the economy or academic uncertainty is the starting point). And when they have at least hinted that, they have done so in a way that insinuates it is a  small minority who largely oppose the Transformation.

It’s not much, but it’s something. And it points to administrators realizing that students and staff are fed up with excuses about state funding or the current state of the country’s economy. The blame game is starting to turn inward toward Shelton and Hay.

Onto the second part, (b). This is literally the first time that the administration has mentioned that there even will be any negative financial implications. The implications being negative is my interpretation of the comment, as Hay is saying that the financial implications are on one side and the advantages on another (“financial implications…overshadowing its advantages”).

Hasn’t the entire UA community been reassured by Shelton and Hay time and time again that positive financial implications are the exact reason for the UA Transformation? That, yes, things will be cut, but it is OK, because the university will be able to save tons of money and thus be able to keep really, really important academic areas (for grants—er, I mean, the kids)?

It seems here, though, that Hay is saying the opposite, that in addition to academic cuts and increases in tuition, the UA will also take financial hits directly from the Transformation? How is this even possible? Isn’t the Transformation suppose to save money?

What could be the reason for Hay to say such a thing, and, more importantly, is it true that the Transformation, in addition to hurting the quality of UA academia and the value of the UA degree, could actually end up hurting the university financially—the opposite of what was suppose to happen with UA funds?

Yes, it seems true. And that’s not even pure speculation. Confirming what we already expected, high-ranking officials in the Eller College of Management and the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences have told the WatchCat News-Journal that most of the numbers associated with the Transformation moves that were approved by the president and provost (and thus, carried out over the past few years) are highly exaggerated, and that actual Transformation savings are nowhere near what was originally green-lit.

This is bad news all around. If this is true on a larger scale than just those two colleges, if unexpectedly-low Transformation savings are becoming the norm with most departments and schools around the UA, then this site’s prediction of a Round 2 of UA Transformation cuts seems very likely, especially considering the loss of federal stimulus dollars in 2011.

Hay’s memo in whole:

“Realignments, consolidations make UA more resilient, nimble

Nearly two years ago, we began the Transformation Plan, a process that involved redirecting, reshaping and reorganizing the University of Arizona. Shortly after we began the transformation process, the state budget began to collapse, increasing pressure to accelerate change at the University. Unfortunately the very public focus on budget cuts shifted attention away from the effective, collaborative improvements and robust new programs that have been initiated through the Transformation Plan.

The underlying purpose of the Transformation Plan was not to chop, but rather to realign, consolidate, and fortify the University’s strengths by creating new learning opportunities for students and bolstering our creative, scholarly research programs. I firmly believe that the Transformation Plan strengthens the quality of research and teaching programs as it increases efficiency, and makes the University more resilient and nimble, benefiting faculty, staff, students and the community.

The process began when we recognized that the status quo would no longer work: becoming bigger and bulkier was not strengthening the University, but weighing it down. The University’s state appropriations as a portion of its budget had been slipping downward, some of our costs were rising in an unsustainable way, and the academic landscape was changing dramatically. It was time to rethink almost every aspect of the University: how we taught and conducted research; how to streamline, improve and reduce administrative costs; how to merge, eliminate or modify less productive or outdated programs; how to best serve the community and our outreach mission.

At the beginning of the process, 77 concept pieces with ideas about program consolidations and mergers, administrative efficiencies, and organizational restructuring were reviewed and vetted. The proposals came from a wide swath of the University community.  We held dozens of forums and discussions to listen, answer questions and, importantly, gather input and comments.

The result was truly transformational – consolidations and realignments of colleges and departments improve access and quality, better serve the 21st Century student, and breakdown institutional barriers and encourage collaborative work among the faculty. The University also benefits from the reductions of administrative costs and efficiencies intrinsic to the Transformation Plan. When the budget disaster hit, the plan was crucial in setting priorities and guiding budget decisions.

During this phase of budget anxiety, the discussions of the financial implications of the Transformation Plan are overshadowing its advantages. With the changes we implemented last year and the new changes from this year, the reorganizations include:

·   16 departments have been reorganized into eight departments;

·   40 departments and units were consolidated into 13 schools;

·   Four colleges created a partnership that is the Colleges of Letters, Arts, and Science; and

·   42 academic programs were closed or merged.

The numbers belie the full process and outcomes of the Transformation Plan that established exciting, new interdisciplinary partnerships, programs and research initiatives while trimming costs. Some of these partnership-based transformations include:

. The School of Mind, Brain and Behavior brings together three academic departments and two graduate interdisciplinary programs to create an entity that is on the national forefront of neuroscientific and cognitive research and education.

. The School of Earth and Environmental Sciences united six campus units in the common pursuit of addressing global climate change, water resources and other critical environmental issues. The school elevates the work the UA is doing in the earth and environmental sciences.

. The School of Sustainable Engineered Systems links five departments in the UA College of Engineering and related research efforts across campus to promote applied research related to sustainability and the environment.

. The School of Public Administration and Policy and the political science department came together to form the new School of Government and Public Policy within the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. The school is already participating with other departments in the college to form new undergraduate interdisciplinary degrees.

. College of Education departments merged and were reshaped into departments of educational policy and studies practice, psychoeducational and disability studies, and teaching, learning and sociocultural studies.

. The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry formed from a merger of chemistry and biochemistry and molecular biophysics and will enhance interactions for research and instruction.

. The School of Theatre, Film and Television was formed from a merger of the School of Media Arts and the School of Theatre Arts that will expand educational opportunities and professional training for the students.

Other Transformation Plan success stories within administrative units saved money and improved functions including those in student affairs, human resources, and academic affairs:

. The Think Tank in student affairs centralizes academic support services across campus and gives students a starting point to connect with writing, math, science and entry-level course tutoring, review services and peer mentors.

. The Office of Instruction and Assessment formed from a reorganization of academic affairs and instruction and included pulling together professionals from several units on campus to provide centralized service to faculty in the areas of instruction and assessment.

I hope you’ll read more about the Transformational Plan on the Provost’s Web site, which includes links to further information on these programs: http://provost.arizona.edu/transformation_outcomes

The Transformation Plan gives dynamic direction to the University’s growth and reshapes it into the institution that will serve the best interests of our state for decades to come. Economic woes and the diminishing budget influenced the Transformation Plan, but were not the sole impetus. When considering and discussing the Transformation Plan and the related consolidations, realignments, mergers and partnerships, I hope you will focus not only on the economic advantages, but also on its power to build on the University’s strengths.”

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One response to “Hay memo reaction: Are UA Transformation savings actually a lot lower than advertised?

  1. Pingback: The Desert Lamp » Campus » The vague quasi-revolution of the transformation process

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