IOWA CITY — University of Iowa President Sally Mason’s chief of staff is taking a leave of absence so he can serve as “transformation project manager” for a sweeping efficiency review of the state’s three public universities.
Mark Braun, UI chief of staff and vice president for external relations, will remain on the UI payroll at his current salary, which was listed as $181,597 in 2013, but he’ll report to Board of Regents Executive Director Robert Donley while in the temporary role, according to a news release.
As transformation project manager, Braun will improve contact between the Board of Regents, the three universities, and consultants hired to conduct the “transparent, inclusive, efficiency review.” Deloitte Consulting, which the Board of Regents has so far agreed to pay up to $3.3 million to conduct the review, has identified several areas for potential savings, efficiencies, and new revenues, and is moving toward implementing changes.
In preparation of that implementation phase, board officials saw a need for greater contact and coordination, both daily and long term, and chose Braun to answer that call based on his “extensive experience” working with the board and universities, according to a news release.
Braun, who has served as the UI campus representative on a subcommittee for the review, will begin in his new role Monday. In a statement, Regent President Bruce Rastetter said Braun has been involved in the review from its inception “and his willingness to step up will help ensure we are successful in controlling costs and keeping public higher education affordable for Iowa students.”
Aspects of the efficiency review have drawn some criticism of late, prompting the board to make changes.
Earlier this year, for example, some expressed concern when just 17 “improvement opportunities” that Deloitte deemed worth immediate pursuit were made public. That prompted the board to release a 97-page report detailing a full list of 175 ideas that had been considered or could be in the future.
And, after The Gazette in June reported that the board was not collecting receipts from Deloitte for things like travel, meals, and lodging despite questions around the more than $220,000 in expenses the firm had accumulated, the board changed its policy and began requiring receipts.
Now, after some staff and faculty members have raised concerns about the timing of the review and the analysis of potential academic efficiencies, the board is slowing things down — again.
Deloitte over the summer purposefully postponed its review of academic areas until the start of the fall semester — and focused on administrative issues instead. But some faculty members have expressed concern that moving forward with the academic review right now will take them away from their teaching obligations, said Jeneane Beck, state relations officer for the Board of Regents and spokeswoman for the efficiency review.
“They want to be involved in the process, but they don’t want to be in meeting after meeting the first two weeks of the semester,” Beck said. “Their first goal is the education of students.”
The delays associated with the review of the universities’ academic areas — both the one in the summer and the one announced this week — have created a scheduling conflict with a subcontractor Deloitte was using for its academic analysis — KH Consulting.
Beck said that based on the conflict, Deloitte is replacing KH Consulting on the project despite the data it already has collected and the work it already has done.
“They are looking for another firm to do the academic review — they want to find a quality firm,” Beck said. “They are working diligently to do that. But this all transpired quickly after realizing in August that we wanted to slow down the pace.”
Beck said the board doesn’t have a new timeline on when it wants to complete the academic side of the efficiency review. That likely will come after a new firm is in place and has been briefed on the work already done.
September forums on the academic aspects of the review have been canceled, but Beck said she hopes the delays won’t be seen as a negative. Rather, she said, they should be viewed as the board’s willingness to respond to feedback from university stakeholders.
“If we don’t get the process right, they will never buy into the savings,” she said. “The ideas won’t have merit to them. So that is where we are at.”
Beck said she doesn’t think Deloitte is replacing KH due to poor performance.
“That was not relayed to us by Deloitte,” she said.
As for the administrative efficiencies Deloitte has identified, the board has agreed to first move forward implementing changes to sourcing and procurement practices and policies. The Board of Regents is drafting a new contract that would enable Deloitte to move forward with its recommendations, which it has said could save up to $16 million to $40 million in the next 18 to 24 months.
As more ideas gear up for implementation, Beck said, Braun will help ease the workload across the regent system.
“We needed some coordination at a high level,” she said.
In a statement, Donley said the board is excited to Braun’s leadership “at this critical stage.”
“We thank President Mason and the University of Iowa for agreeing to loan Mark to oversee this complex implementation project,” Donley said.
Braun, in a statement, said he is looking forward to his new role.
“We have a great opportunity to look at how our universities operate and see if there is a better and more efficient way to serve students and the state.”