Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Truly Sad Story at the

University of Minnesota

President Bruininks Should Fix This 

Before He Leaves...

University of Minnesota Faculty Senate
Committee on Finance and Planning 11/16/10

...the Committee is leading off with a repeat of a meeting held about two years ago: Discussion of the EFS system with faculty and staff to hear their concerns.

-- In one department, with a budget over $35 million and 17 accountants, the faculty do not know what EFS is nor have they seen its impact.  One of the most significant problems with EFS is that it does not talk to the HR system except by a third set of codes, and that problem will never go away.

-- Another department, also with a budget over $30 million,
has 9 accountants, so a similar caseload but fewer people. The result is that they provide fewer services to faculty because of the increased workload, which causes frustration in the relationships with faculty, which is detrimental to morale. They would prefer to be where they were before EFS was implemented, when they could respond to requests for information from the faculty. They cannot do so now because of the complexity of the system. They use a shadow system developed within the Academic Health Center.

-- The biggest problem for the faculty is reporting. PIs have to make decisions daily but find it extremely difficult to do so because they do not receive reports they can understand (and in many departments they do not have staff who can explain them). As a result, faculty are spending 3-5-10 times as much effort on reports as they did before—rather than engaged in teaching and research. 

-- Another college uses a different shadow system, and while EFS is a powerful system, it has a weakness. It cannot provide reports that are in English, are simple, and are point-and-click.

-- For those who are department heads, at a time of budget difficulties and financial challenges, when meeting with colleagues from departments that use different shadow systems, it is impossible to compare reports or get tips. Shadow systems do not roll up to the college level so there is no uniformity in reports.

-- Another departmental representative echoed all the concerns about reporting. In a department with about $20 million in grants, they have 2 accountants and their faculty are terrified about the status of their accounts, unable to project into the future, and hoping they don't face an NIH audit. They don't know how much money they have.

-- A representative from another college said he could not agree more with the previous point: 40-digit account numbers create errors. The system needs to be smarter about what is valid and what is not. Professor Luepker commented that this error rate is frightening and asked if anyone had any idea what that rate is. One guest said he did not know but they have to check every transaction. Which, said another, delays work and causes more work.

-- There are also glitches in the system (one department had a transaction from 2008 just show up this year). How can they accept numbers they cannot trust? Reporting is a big issue, but there is also a question whether policies are clear and whether education helps. There is no training manual on how to do things.

Professor Luepker commented that the University is in a time of fiscal restraint and must do things in an accurate, timely way without adding costs. He recalled being asked two years ago, as a faculty member, what he wanted in a report, but found it was a confusing system. Faculty need timely, readable, pablumized reports that are easily digestible; most faculty do not have the skills to interpret EFS reports and probably should not have to spend the time doing so. The Committee has heard that it takes more time to do things.
Professor Schulz inquired what would come of the discussion about EFS. The Committee is a consultative body, Professor Luepker responded, and perhaps should abstract questions from what it heard. The President has received the memo from the Faculty Consultative Committee (FCC) and indicated he is gathering information, and he would like this Committee to coordinate its efforts with those of the FCC.

Professor Martin said that the last round of discussions this Committee had about EFS did have an impact: The President asked for monthly reports and there were some fixes. But not big ones, apparently.

Professor Olin said that the Committee has talked about the real time that EFS consumes but that does not show up anywhere. The immediate investment of dollars to reduce those time demands should be a high priority.

Professor Durfee noted that the funds come from the cost pools, from the colleges, so there is no magic pot of money.
Mr. Rollefson recalled the University spent about $18 million to fix CUFS, in 1990, and it could be $50 million to fix EFS, at a time that no one has the money.
Mr. Driscoll observed that people keep seeing committee minutes with discussions of EFS, and administrators know they have to pay attention.

Mr. Erikson asked if the Committee should propose solutions rather than just gripe. Professor Luepker noted that he asked the guests to do so. There were more global suggestions, and the minutes can reflect that people were upset but also that there were suggestions for improving the system.

Professor Schulz said that some departments have taken on the "learned helplessness" model.
They do not know what would happen if NIH visited. Things are not in a lull because the system has been fixed, they in a lull because although some things are fixed, many faculty are just lying down. There could be a substantial impact on departmental function and vulnerability to outside reviews.

Professor Luepker said that it is frustrating to spend money on a system that is doing less at a time of severe fiscal constraints. And that is not getting better, Mr. Driscoll said, and at a time of personnel cuts, Ms. Kersteter added.

This situation is obviously an utter and total disaster.  


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