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Report explains university's central administration is well situated, but pinpoints potential areas for managing more efficiently

Regents, including newly elected members, preview "spans and layers" report

March 8, 2013

The structure of University of Minnesota’s central administration units studied recently have an appropriate number of layers from the top down. However, the number of employees that report to each supervisor is lower than is recommended for higher education organizations, according to outside experts.

"This is helpful data. We’ll use it to become more efficient, reduce costs and reallocate resources from administration to teaching, research and public engagement," said President Eric Kaler. "Since day one I have been committed to becoming more efficient so we can invest more in our students."

Kaler updated the U’s Board of Regents Friday morning about the university’s Operational Excellence initiative and progress to date, including a draft of the interim report on "spans and layers" and plans for a benchmarking study requested by the Legislature.

The university retained Sibson Consulting in late January to analyze the layers of decision-making from top to bottom and the spans or the number of employees that directly report to each supervisor. The spans and layers analysis aims to help determine whether the U’s organizational structure can be simplified, costs reduced and effectiveness improved.

Sibson Consulting reviewed 608 individual positions in three units: the Office of Human Resources and the Office of Information Technology (OIT), as well as the Office of Budget and Finance and Purchasing Services, which reports to Finance. Together, they represent three of the four administrative/non-academic units that report to Kaler. Sibson found that:

  • Although instances exist in the surveyed units where the U can increase the number of employees per supervisor, the university’s ratio of spans to layers generally is appropriate. According to Sibson, effective organizations are broader (or have larger spans of control) than they are deep from top to bottom.
  • All but OIT have an average number of employees per supervisor that is below "best practice" recommendations for higher education as set by other consultants – an average of 3.63 to 4.88 employees per supervisor at the U compared to the recommended 6-7 employees per supervisor with higher-level expertise and as many as 15 employees per supervisor in front-line positions.

The University also analyzed employee compensation in the units and determined that it is competitive within the higher education market and is slightly lower than in the private sector. The U routinely completes market surveys to ensure competitive compensation and attract and retain top talent.

Next steps

Sibson will extend its review and complete a similar spans and layers analysis across the U’s entire management structure by summer 2013. In addition, Huron Consulting Group, a firm that specializes in education and has been retained by 94 of the top 100 research universities across the country, has been retained for $495,000. By June 30, Huron will conduct a benchmarking analysis to:

  • Identify, scale and prioritize opportunities for improvement
  • Outline potential barriers to optimal performance, which may include technology, organizational structure and service delivery models
  • Highlight leading practices at peer institutions the U should consider implementing

Once all of the data is complete, the U will make changes to better align its management and employees with delivery of its mission and service to students. Future steps will include reviewing each and every job to make sure it is appropriately classified and represents the work being done; setting goals for reducing layers and increasing spans of control, depending on the work being done; adopting policies that support greater efficiency; and training managers in effective supervisory and change management.

"Ultimately, our goal is to continually reduce the percent of the university’s resources that are used for administrative and managerial costs," Kaler said.

Kaler will present the initial spans and layers analysis, along with information about Operational Excellence savings and other administrative cost analyses conducted during the past year, to the Minnesota Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee at 3 p.m. Tuesday, March 12.

New regents join board

The board was joined by two new regents, who were elected by a joint session of the Minnesota Legislature Wednesday night. Newly elected members include:

  • Peggy Lucas, Fifth District; founding partner of Brighton Development Corp. and longtime U donor and volunteer
  • Abdul Omari, at-large student member; a College of Education and Human Development doctoral student and former student representative to the board

Incumbent at-large Regents Linda Cohen (current board chair) and Dean Johnson were also reelected to the board.

The 12-member board is the governing body of the university and was established by the Minnesota Territorial Legislature prior to statehood. The Legislature elects one regent from each of Minnesota’s eight congressional districts and four from the state at large. One of the four at-large regents must be a U student at the time of election. Regents serve without compensation for six-year terms.

McKnight Land Grant Professors

The board congratulated the 2013-15 McKnight Land Grant Professors – junior scholars chosen for their potential for important contributions to their fields; the degree to which past achievements and current ideas demonstrate originality, imagination and innovation; the significance of their research; and the potential for attracting outstanding students. The award consists of a research grant in each of two years, summer support and a research leave in the second year. Professors chosen include:

  • Jake Bailey, Earth Sciences, Twin Cities campus
  • Jasmine Foo, Mathematics, Twin Cities campus
  • Anika Maria Sophie Hartz, Pharmacy Practice and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Duluth campus
  • Mo Li, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Twin Cities campus
  • Alice Lovejoy, Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature, Twin Cities campus
  • Rusen Yang, Mechanical Engineering, Twin Cities campus

In other activity, the board:

  • Discussed the university’s technology landscape, outlined by Vice President and Chief Information Officer Scott Studham
  • On Thursday immersed itself into the College of Liberal Arts to gain insights into the strengths and challenges in teaching and research at the U’s largest college

Regents will meet next in May. For more information go to

Twin Cities Campus: