Iowa Regent task force to discuss longer list of 'opportunities' for universities

Implementation will be monitored, officials said

(The Gazette)
(The Gazette)

Although a consulting firm being paid millions to review the efficiency of Iowa’s public universities is actively moving forward with just 17 of 175 cost-saving or moneymaking “opportunities” it identified, officials said Tuesday that the longer list shouldn’t be dismissed.

Rick Ferraro, a Deloitte Consulting director and project manager of the review, said the complete list, in fact, will be the center of upcoming discussions between his team and the Board of Regents task force charged with leading its “transparent inclusive efficiency review.”

“The next set of discussions is … What are we going to do with the rest of this list?” Ferraro said Tuesday during a public forum at Iowa State University — the third of its kind, following last week’s meetings at the University of Iowa and University of Northern Iowa.

It’s unclear when Deloitte will next meet with the five-member Board of Regents task force to discuss the longer list of opportunities. The group’s meetings have not been open to the public, and board officials say they are not legally required to be.

But, Ferraro said, even as they forge ahead with a deeper analysis of the 17 opportunities identified as having the most potential benefit, his team will scan the rest of the list for ideas that can be handed off to the individual universities and their faculty and staff to implement.

Every idea that is handed off — and its implementation — will be monitored, Ferraro said.

“They will not just get handed off,” he said. “The idea comes with accountability.”

The group of 17 most promising opportunities to cut costs, make money or improve effectiveness includes broad recommendations like strengthening academic programs, investing in energy management initiatives, and improving the use of classroom space.

The longer list — presented in a 97-page report — touches more areas across the Board of Regents system, including the board office itself, public safety departments, food service operations, and academic programs like study abroad.

“We were asked to be aggressive and thorough, and that’s why you have 97 pages of ideas — some of which we would not recommend get implemented,” Ferraro said. “But we thought it was appropriate to articulate some of those.”

Ferraro didn’t identify which items on the list are advisable and which are not. Some of the suggestions include “evaluating campus public safety departments to determine whether merging with municipal police departments would allow the universities to achieve savings and efficiencies.”

The regents also could, according to one suggestion, encourage greater collaboration among the universities to develop a “consortium of study abroad opportunities.”

The document suggests creating more meaningful program and curriculum evaluations across the three campuses aimed at providing criteria for continuance, discontinuance and reallocation of resources and a “systemwide rationalization of course or program offerings.”

One proposal suggests exploring options to achieve “optimal staffing and organizational configuration.”

When asked about possible job cuts and consolidations, Ferraro said, his team is working first to find efficiencies outside the workforce and to increase revenue. Calculating the potential impact on staffing levels, he said, is difficult to predict at this stage.

“There is a lot more to study,” he said, adding, “We are in this together. We are not interested in reducing staff levels just because.”

The Board of Regents launched the efficiency review last year in hopes of making its public universities more viable, productive and sustainable. It hired Deloitte Consulting at an initial cost of $2.5 million to facilitate the three-phased study.

Following the completion of the first phase, the Board of Regents agreed to pay up to $1 million more so Deloitte can work longer than expected on phase two of the review.

While phase one included the work of collecting data, meeting with campus communities, and creating a list of opportunities, phase two digs deeper into how to implement the most promising measures and analyzes whether there are legitimate savings possible.

For example, one woman expressed concern during the ISU forum Tuesday that a proposal to close some academic buildings in the summer and evenings doesn’t make sense for all faculty members.

That, Ferraro said, is exactly the purpose of phase two.

“That’s a preliminary idea, but we need to talk with you,” he said. “We don’t want to mess anything up, so we need to go through the process.”

After implementation, which could happen fast in some areas and take years in others, Deloitte said potential savings could range from $30 million to $80 million a year. Those numbers, however, will become more specific during phase two, Ferraro said.

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