IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa central administration reviews that are supposed to be conducted every seven years — per university policy — have fallen off track, with only one office out of seven having undergone the review process in the past nine years.
The reviews can have significant consequences. Past reviews have resulted in the creation of at least one new position to the restructuring of offices.
The Office of the Provost was reviewed in 2014, for example, making it the only one that has been reviewed in the timeline outlined in the UI operations manual. The Office of the President hasn’t been reviewed since 2003 — long before current UI President Bruce Harreld came on board in 2015 — when David Skorton was at the helm.
Other reviews generally have not been conducted since the early 2000s. Several offices operated under a different name at the date of their last reviews.
UI policy charges the Faculty Senate president and the central administrator who leads each office to conduct the reviews.
“The review procedure is intended to improve the capacity of administrative offices and officers to support and enhance the teaching, research and service goals of the University,” the manual states. “Moreover, the academic review is intended to facilitate communication between administrative officials and the faculty, and to make it possible for the faculty to participate actively in the governance of the university.”
UI faculty leaders started work during the 2017-18 academic year to get back on schedule with the reviews, first examining the Office of the Vice President for External Relations — an office that has never been reviewed under its current structure.
It was last reviewed, as the Office of the Vice President for University Relations, in 1998.
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Faculty Senate President Russ Ganim, who chaired the committee that conducted that review, told The Gazette in an email the report will be presented to the Faculty Senate in the fall before being posted on the group’s website.
“The plan is to review one office per semester until we’ve completed the assessments of all the central administrative offices,” he said.
Pete Snyder, who served as Faculty Senate president as the reviews were rebooted, said meeting the schedule will strain the Senate. But, he added, they don’t intend to change current policy.
The reviews likely will return to a one-per-year schedule once the Faculty Senate finishes this first bout, he said.
The Office of the Vice President for Finance and Operations is on tap for the next review.
The plan, according to Snyder, is to start with offices that have been reviewed longest ago, while also considering how long the central administrator whose office is being reviewed has held the position.
The reboot comes amid widespread turnover among UI administrative ranks — with the university conducting searches to replace its provost, several vice presidential posts and dean positions.
“I think part of the reason that sometimes these reviews don’t get completed in a timely basis is that there’s turnover in the positions, there’s changes in configurations of the offices,” Snyder said. “When that happens, reviews often get delayed because it doesn’t seem like a good idea to review the office where you’ve just appointed somebody brand-new.”
To ensure reviews meet policy standards, Faculty Senate President Ganim said, “One solution would be for the Faculty Senate offices and central administration to establish and publish a review schedule so that the procedures and timelines are clear for all involved parties.”
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UI history professor Katherine Tachau, president of the UI chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said she interprets the policy as being clear that reviews should occur every seven years regardless of how long the leaders of each office have held their positions.
Tachau led Faculty Senate while the last review of the Office of the Vice President for Research was conducted, before its renaming. The review was among the drivers of the office renaming, she said.
A suggestion that came from the last review of the Office of the President, completed around 2003 by the time Skorton was appointed president, was to hire high-ranking executive assistant to essentially act as the chief of staff, Tachau said.
When these reviews are not conducted in the timeline laid out in the operations manual, Tachau said, “It’s sort of as if each of those offices was a plane that was put on autopilot and never gets around to landing.
“These offices and their officers have to be reviewed so that if you just got into a habit of doing things a certain way and it’s no longer the best way to do things, you get a corrective,” she said. “And given that virtually all parts of the university have been under budget strains for the last 18 to 20 years and with so many groups being expected to do more with less … we can get into pretty inefficient habits just by not having looked to see if the ways we are doing things still make sense.”
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When was each UI office last reviewed?
• Office of the VP for University Relations (now External Relations) — 1998, with a new report to come fall 2018
• Office of the VP for Finance/University Services (now Finance and Operations) — 2001, with a new review currently in the works
• Office of the VP for Student Services (now Student Life) — 2009
• Office of the Provost — 2014
• Office of the President — 2003
• Office of the VP for Research (now Research and Economic Development) — 2006
• Office of the General Counsel — 2004