President's Comments

UA System: A Functional Review Checklist

What are the organizational offices, functions and services of the University of Alaska System? Which of these act as a controlling position, which function as a support position? Of these, which are essential to fulfilling the Regents’ legislative and constitutional responsibilities for fiduciary and academic oversight, and which are more discretionary? Among the essential functions, which, if any, can be conducted at lower cost or more effectively? How?

As UA System employees, you probably have some thoughts and opinions about some of the questions I pose in the paragraph above. If you haven’t thought about them, I’d like to encourage you to do so. You don’t need to take action right now; just think about them. Here are a few more questions that I hope will generate discussion and thought:

Of the more or less discretionary statewide functions, which ones clearly serve an important educational support function, apart from others that are less critical, or others that have outlived their usefulness, or simply don’t work?

  1. Is this function, program or service so effective and important to the educational or research mission that it should be retained as is?
  2. Can it be conducted in a less costly or more effective way that increases value to the student?
  3. What would be the consequences of locating the functional responsibility at a "lead campus" rather than in a System office. Given that, should we?
  4. What are the pros and cons of outsourcing this function to a non-university provider? Should we?
  5. What would be the consequences of discontinuing this function, program or service? Should we?
  6. For comparison purposes, given the answers to 1-5 above, should we agree to alter the function, or just retain status quo? (The answers must be compelling, not shades of gray)

Consider These Three Primary System Office Roles in your Assessment

•    System Governance – the portions of Statewide that have fiduciary responsibility for UA as a corporate entity, maintaining the constitutional, statutory and regulatory responsibilities for the System set by the state and federal governments, and the policy requirements set by the Board of Regents;

•    Statewide services – the portions of Statewide that are established to provide central administrative services for the entire System for reasons of economy of scale, efficiency or effectiveness;

•    Statewide programs – the portions of Statewide that deliver academic, research or public service programs on a statewide basis.

In the Statewide services arena, there is room for honest disagreement about centralized versus decentralized services, and whether each of the central services can be provided at lower cost, higher efficiency, or higher effectiveness. And there is room for disagreement as to when lower cost is more important than higher effectiveness. That said, there are several choices that can be made.

  • Centralized Statewide – the service can be provided by the System office on behalf of all campuses
  • Centralized Lead MAU – the service can be provided by one MAU on behalf of all the MAUs
  • Centralized Consortium – the service can be provided by a consortium formed by the MAUs
  • Decentralized MAU – the service can be provided at the MAU level by each of the MAUs, without coordination between MAU’s
  • Distributed – the service can be provided at the campus level within each MAU, without coordination between campuses or MAUs
  • Outsourced – the service can be provided by the private sector
  • Ignored – the System office can ignore whether the service is provided or not
  • Discontinued – the service can end
  • Hybrid – the service can be provided by a hybrid of one or more of the above choices

As a rule the administration and operational delivery of academic, research and service programs rightfully belong to the accredited academic institutions (MAUs). Thus by default we create a functional role for the System office: System wide functional coordination, adjudication of competing claims for programs and resources, academic policy planning, and System wide quality control.

Other key roles for the System in academic programs include:

  • As incubator, or initiator, of new Statewide academic programs, with a clear intent to transition the program to an MAU or campus
  • As a "receiver," when a campus program is unsupportable, with an intention to transition the program back to an MAU if practical.
  • As a transition, for programs that are within the UA System but are being readied for movement outside the System to a state agency or nonprofit; or for programs transferred from a state agency or nonprofit, pending the decision as to which campus or System office should take on the function
  • As a budget monitor, to ensure an MAU doesn’t cut back on student program delivery during a time of financial difficulty without full coordination among other MAUs

As we move toward the fall 2011 semester and get closer to beginning the process of a measured change in strategic direction for the entire University of Alaska System, let’s think about some of these things a bit closer to home—in our own System Office. Then, let’s discuss them.  If you have ideas or thoughts about the matters I’ve raised, please let me know at ua.president@alaska.edu. Challenging the status quo and engaging in constructive conversation isn’t just for students – it’s for all of us.

-----Pat Gamble

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