“Shared Services” Will Consolidate Departmental Functions Over the Next Three Years

Administrators hope the program will add “value” to the University.

By Emily Kramer

Over the next two years, University administrators will be implementing a new model for providing routine support and administrative services. The Shared Services initiative will consolidate routine service and administrative functions currently being performed in various departments at the University into a new team whose aim is directed solely at that particular function and at reducing the function’s costs.

Provost Eric D. Isaacs and Rowan Miranda, Vice President for Operations and Chief Financial Officer of the University, will oversee the execution of this model. Shared Services will focus on human resources, finance, purchasing, research administration, and information technology.

“Right now, there’s a central organization that does [routine support for desktops and laptops], but there are many people in each of the units doing the same thing,” Miranda said in an interview released by the University News Office. “Under Shared Services, the idea would be to establish a new service that could support the basic computing needs of everyone on campus.”

Various students and student organizations oppose the initiative, including Fair Budget UChicago, a student-run organization that combats economic and racial injustices.

Fourth-year Spencer McAvoy, co-coordinator of Fair Budget UChicago, said that Shared Services programs hurt workers and waste money. “Shared Services is, generally, corporate jargon for cuts to jobs, benefits, pay, which it justifies with prattle about ‘efficiency’ and ‘eliminating redundancies.’”

According to Miranda, the Shared Services model will benefit employees in their professional paths. “They get a formal career path, there are new opportunities for promotion and they don’t have to do the same thing forever,” he said.

Attempts to implement the Shared Services initiative have faced opposition from faculty at various universities, including the University of Texas at Austin, the University of California Berkeley, and Yale. At the University of Michigan, where Miranda worked to implement a Shared Services model, a faculty petition against the initiative garnered 1,200 signatures.

Miranda said that many of the University’s peer institutions, including Yale, Berkeley, and Dartmouth, have implemented a Shared Services model because of its effectiveness and how well it can be received when structured around the needs of the staff and faculty.

In an interview for UChicago News, Isaacs said that the primary goal of the initiative is to add value to the University. “That means we want to provide services that are not only excellent and meet the needs of our faculty, students and staff, but are also cost-effective.”

According to Ronn Kolbash, the Associate Vice President for Shared Services, the resources saved by Shared Services will be redirected toward scholarship and education. Kolbash predicts that changes will be implemented by the Shared Services Center starting in early 2017 and should be complete by the end of 2018.

McAvoy believes that the University should find other means of preserving resources. “We think UChicago should be looking for ways to save on bloated administrative salaries, debt-financed lavish construction projects and gentrifying developments, and the hundreds of millions they pay out in fees each year to hedge funds and private equity firms, rather than paying corporate consultants to come in and figure out ways to squeeze more money out of its already underpaid workers,” he said.

“Everyone involved in this initiative understands, after talking with our peers who have already moved to a shared services model, that it is essential to have an inclusive and consultative process that listens and responds to the needs of faculty and staff in their respective units,” Kolbash said. “While the process may be challenging, the implementation team is committed to doing the right thing for our community and the future of this campus. Our approach will be tailored carefully to who we are, and will support our core values.”

In an effort to maintain transparency, the Center has launched a Shared Services website with additional information and project updates. This website is exclusively accessible to UChicago staff and faculty.