Nov. 28, 1994
Vol. 14, No. 7

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    Letter to the University community from President Sonnenschein

    15 November 1994

    To: Members of the University Community

    From: Hugo F. Sonnenschein Earlier this fall, consultants from KPMG Peat Marwick submitted a report to the University recommending ways to reduce administrative costs and improve the quality of the support services provided to faculty and students. A faculty/staff Steering Committee that oversaw the KPMG study endorsed the bulk of the consultants' report. Both the report and the Steering Committee's response have been shared with the University community, and reactions have been quite positive. The purpose of this letter is to keep you apprised of our plans to refine and implement these recommendations.

    While many important decisions must still be made concerning the shape and timing of our implementation efforts as well as the level of investment in new technology required to achieve our goals, now that the consultants have completed their work we want to begin moving forward. Our initial areas of focus will be in financial systems, procurement, and student services. I have asked Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Lawrence J. Furnstahl to assume overall responsibility for the cost reduction project, with Henry S. Webber, Associate Vice President for Administration, and William J. Hogan, Comptroller and Associate Vice President for Administrative Computing, taking the lead on particular initiatives as described below. Provost Stone and I will be meeting and consulting regularly about this project with these administrators.

    Mr. Hogan will lead an effort, involving both faculty and staff, to streamline and strengthen the University's financial systems. This will include the development of a series of "local transaction centers" to handle the business affairs (budget encumbrances, payments, record keeping) of academic and administrative units, as well as the redesign of our financial reporting mechanisms. A prominent part of this effort will be overhauling our purchasing system to make it less centralized and more responsive to user needs.

    The KPMG report made a compelling case for the benefits to be derived from a "student service center" that would bring together and coordinate the nonacademic support services which we provide. This would include, for example, financial aid, loan processing, registration, billing, and student employment. I have asked Mr. Webber to direct our efforts to create such a center.

    Offering our students this sort of "one-stop shopping" for financial and administrative matters is just one of the important steps we can take to improve the quality of nonacademic services at Chicago. The quality of Chicago's academic programs is truly remarkable, and I am heartened to see that our students are generally quite pleased with what they learn and accomplish in the classroom, library and laboratory. I am sure that we can make the nonacademic aspects of our students' time here equally fulfilling. This must involve attention to the quality of the services we provide every day as well as some more fundamental changes.

    Over the course of the next year or so the Task Force on the Quality of Student Experience that the Provost and I appointed will develop a variety of proposals to improve campus life and to help us make even better use of the many talented staff and faculty concerned with student organizations, residential life, and recreational and service opportunities. In the meantime though, I want to strengthen our institutional capacity to carry out the Task Force's eventual recommendations. To this end, I have asked Arthur M. Sussman, General Counsel and Vice President for Administration and for Argonne National Laboratory, to coordinate and make necessary improvements in student life operations and activities across the University. As part of this initiative the Dean of Students will report to Mr. Sussman on all nonacademic matters. Mr. Sussman is very familiar with student life issues, having served as Resident Master of Woodward Court from 1987 to 1992. I shall be looking to him for guidance on how we can bring the day-to-day aspects of living and learning at Chicago more in line with student needs and expectations.

    One other administrative area discussed in the KPMG report should also be mentioned at this time. Our consultants have offered a number of important suggestions about the management of the University's physical plant. I have asked Lawrence Furnstahl to oversee this area and to begin a nationwide search for a new Associate Vice President for Facilities who will be responsible for implementing many of KPMG's recommendations.

    I am confident that the initiatives I have described here will help us to provide an environment that gives the very best support to scholarship and learning.