In academic admin. office cut, University to save $1.1 million

The senior vice president of the Office for Academic Administration will leave for State University of New York at Albany.

Robert Jones is the only person who has led the University of Minnesota’s Office for Academic Administration and the only administrator who ever will.

 When Jones leaves his senior vice president for an academic administration role in January, the OAA will be dissolved, and its units will report to other offices.

A four-person task force appointed by President Eric Kaler in September recommended eliminating the OAA in a report released Nov. 1. Administrators predict eliminating the office will save about $1.1 million annually, with an additional $500,000 in savings up front.

Jones will leave Minnesota to become president of the State University of New York at Albany.

 “We, frankly, didn’t think we could find another individual that brought exactly what Robert brought to leading this particular, diverse set of functions,” said Amy Phenix, Kaler’s chief of staff and a member of the task force.

The OAA oversees the University’s academic administration, statewide and system-wide initiatives and coordinate campuses.

Its departments, like the Office of Public Engagement, will be reassigned to University leaders including Kaler, Karen Hanson, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost, and Brian Herman, the newly appointed vice president for research.

The immediate savings come from short-term OAA projects and other one-time office expenses, Phenix said. The annual savings will result from cutting five full-time positions and one part-time position, but the employees in these roles could move to other existing University positions, she said.

According to University salary data, Jones made about $300,000 in 2011, making him the 18th highest-paid employee in the University system.

Phenix said the task force considered creating a chief operating officer position to fill Jones’ role. While the University may do this in the future, she said it wasn’t immediately recommended because of the work involved in the ongoing $83.5 million system upgrade.

The task force ensured the offices that will be responsible for overseeing former OAA units have the resources and the capacity to do so, Phenix said.

“The staff and the functions and the budgets of those functions will move with them,” she said.

As part of the evaluation process, the task force consulted with Jones, his chief of staff and the leaders of each unit currently under OAA.

One of these University departments, Global Programs and Strategy Alliance, will now report to Hanson.

Meredith McQuaid, dean of International Programs, said the new reporting structure for her office is typical at peer institutions.

McQuaid said she had “a very honest conversation” about her office and its relationship with Jones during her discussions with Lendley Black, chancellor of the University of Minnesota- Duluth and a member of the task force.

While McQuaid said she doesn’t have any concerns about the restructure, Jones’ absence will be a loss.

Black said the restructure is primarily a response to Jones’ departure instead of an effort to solve a specific problem.

As a chancellor, he reported to both Jones and Kaler — now, he’ll report only to Kaler.

The restructure is an opportunity for the chancellors to increase their involvement in decision making while continuing Jones’ work of strengthening the relationship among the five campuses, Black said.

McQuaid said OAA offices are ready for the change, and Jones built a foundation that will allow for it.

 “We’re a big organization,” she said. “We weather changes quite well.”