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Breaking down potential university reorganization

The+Battalions+editorial+staff+reviews+the+132+page+month-long+study+completed+by+MGT+Consulting+on+behalf+of+University+President+M.+Katherine+Banks.+%26%23160%3B
Photo by Photo by Pilar Ibarra

The Battalion’s editorial staff reviews the 132 page month-long study completed by MGT Consulting on behalf of University President M. Katherine Banks.  

Texas A&M has been presented with a consultation report which suggests heavy alterations to university structure, including mentions of significant departmental consolidation.

A&M may see major changes to the alignment throughout the university after partnering with MGT of America Consulting, or MGT, and Martin+Crumpton Group to review university efficiency. With the Oct. 25 public release of the comprehensive review’s final report, university President M. Katherine Banks asked for feedback on the report’s recommendations from campus members for the next two weeks before her administration implements any changes come December. 
The report details a number of opportunities for A&M’s growth and presents threats to said potential growth which MGT recognized through its assessment, including the university’s reputation of political culture and history which, according to the report’s findings, have hindered student body and faculty diversity. 
“[A&M] has historically been conservative and slow to change regarding diversity issues,” the report reads. “University climate [is] not always welcoming, particularly to diverse faculty, staff and students. Enrollment of diverse students, particularly African Americans, is low. Student and faculty populations do not reflect the state population.”

​​In addition to a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion, a key theme of the report is centralization of administrative functions across the university for cost and talent efficiency purposes.
Below are the major findings, recommendations and rationales for the 10 aspects of the university’s organization as laid out in the report.
Office of the Provost

As part of the recurring theme of the need for centralization in many departments, the report’s recommendations for the Office of the Provost include moving many of its current areas of responsibility to other parts of university administration. Many of these areas being moved include campus and community outreach programs, as well as Diversity and Inclusion programs, to give way for the provost to focus their efforts mainly on academic success.

“This reorganization will provide a much more balanced portfolio and will allow the Provost office to focus exclusively on the academic mission of achieving excellence,” the report reads. “Best practice focusing on improved learning and development of students, staff and faculty reinforces the emergent theme that the Office of the Provost at [A&M] is too large, hindering its ability to provide more individualized assistance and serve the needs of faculty and staff.”

The second finding in regards to the Office of the Provost relates to the current decentralization of advising structure for undergraduates at A&M. MGT’s recommendation is to create a “consistent, streamlined advising experience for students,” however, the report does not address the methods in which it plans to create this centralized advising experience. 

Academic realignment

The report had nine total findings for A&M’s academic units, which overall saw a lack of collaboration and inefficient use of resources across programs.

The report’s first recommendation for academic realignment is to “redefine [A&M]’s largest units into a four-legged stool structure” made up of a new College of Arts and Sciences, College of Engineering, College of AgriLife and Texas A&M Health. The report recommends the current colleges of Liberal Arts, Science and Geosciences combine to create a College of Arts and Sciences in order to reallocate saved administrative costs toward academia and research. 

“This larger college structure creates a stronger advocacy for the liberal arts education at a STEM-focused university,” the report states. “This advocacy is a value in recruiting faculty in the arts, humanities and social sciences which are often underrepresented at STEM-focused universities.”

Within this new college, the report also recommends the creation of a Department of Journalism, a Department of Library Sciences and a School of Visual and Performing Arts, in which the Department of Visualization, which is currently housed in the College of Architecture, would move to. Additionally, the report recommends the university studies degree be consolidated solely under this proposed College of Arts and Sciences.

“To ensure that each college focuses on its mission and are not distracted with students who do not have the qualifications or interest to enroll in a college degree program, the University Studies program should be unified in the College of Arts and Sciences,” the report reads. “The program staff can work collectively with all University Studies students to develop plans of study that meets expectations for both student and institution.”

Some other notable recommendations include moving the Department of Construction Science under the College of Engineering along with the Technology Management degree program, and the Department of Health and Kinesiology under the School of Public Health. Additionally, the report recommends moving the Department of Political Science under the Bush School of Government and Public Service, along with potentially the departments of Economics and International Studies, in order to foster greater collaboration between graduate and undergraduate students in public policy.

“To truly empower the Bush School to reach its full potential and become the highest ranked and most visible School of Public Policy in the nation, a significant investment in expansion must be made,” the report reads. “Given [A&M]’s commitment to the six Core Values, the Bush School could broadly represent the embodiment of Selfless Service and be a visible and constant reminder of why President George H. W. Bush selected [A&M] to house his library.”

Finally, the proposed academic realignment suggests a new Institute of Biological Life Sciences be created, under which the departments of Biology and Biomedical Sciences could be housed. A reconfiguration of the biology degree is discussed to follow a similar path to current A&M engineering degrees, in which all incoming freshmen could take general biology classes and then specialize as upperclassmen. This Institute would be housed under the College of AgriLife. 

The report is unclear whether the colleges of Education, Architecture or Business would remain a part of the aforementioned “four-legged” structure. 

Student Affairs

In addition to reorganization of Student Affairs administration, the report mainly found a lack of accountability, transparency and alignment with the Aggie Core Values among student organizations and activities, namely Fish Camp. 
“Fish Camp is an example of [A&M’s history and culture negatively impacting student body diversity] — there is a lack of control over the content of the camp. The challenges of polarized politics have the potential to threaten Core Values,” the report reads. 
The report leaves out any assessment of the Corps of Cadets in regards to accountability or transparency, stating it is just a “part of the school’s culture and student body.”
The report does call on the university’s traditions and Core Values as a means of unifying the campus under a “common vision” through which all of the proposed reorganization can be achieved. Student Affairs is where this shared culture starts, according to the report.
“One of the most important roles of Student Affairs at [A&M] is to uphold tradition,” the report reads. “It was clear that the Aggie culture presents a foundation of shared traditions and values that create cohesive identity for students, staff and faculty.”
The report’s third recommendation for Student Affairs is to move Student Health Services and Counseling and Psychological Services into Texas A&M Health in order to potentially provide more resources to students in these areas. 

Academic and strategic collaborations

The Office of the vice president for Academic and Strategic Collaborations was created on Sept. 1 of this year to focus on the university’s connections to Texas communities and promote diverse recruitment within the university to be more representative of the demographic percentages of the state. 

“Texas is the second-most diverse state across a variety of metrics and fourth-most culturally diverse,” the report reads. “Texas is 12.9 percent Black or African American, but [A&M’s] Black or African American student population is only 3.7 percent. Likewise, 39.7 percent of Texans are Hispanic or Latino, but only 24.9 percent of [A&M] students are Hispanic or Latino.”

To achieve greater levels of diversity and general student population, MGT recommends the creation of a new office with the sole purpose of refining recruitment and student retention practices. This includes recruiting more undergraduate students, with an emphasis on minority students. The goal is to achieve the “land-grant mission [to] serve all Texans,” regardless of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and other diverse factors, according to the report.

“A more strategic approach to undergraduate recruitment would serve the mission by ensuring that prospective students and their families throughout the state are aware of the opportunities that enrollment at [A&M] would afford them,” the report reads. “Prospective students from underserved and minority communities will likely require more outreach for enrollment to become more reflective of Texas demographics.”

The report’s last recommendation for this section is to create more inclusive programs for the community surrounding the university as well as the students. The report points out the university’s lack of a “modern performing arts center” to be enjoyed by the Bryan-College Station community and the availability of land on campus to build parks and other outdoor locations as well as a museum of natural history. 

“The addition of these cultural assets will allow [A&M] to contribute to community-building in the region and become a more well-rounded university,” the report reads. “In addition, the presence of these resources will help create a balanced campus that offers both applied professional opportunities as well as the fine arts components.”

Faculty Affairs

The report’s sole objective for Faculty Affairs is to replace the empty position of Dean of Faculties with a vice president of Faculty Affairs, partially to do with performance of the former position, according to the report. 

“The reputation of this office is not necessarily positive throughout campus, with concerns about timeliness, fairness of decisions, unnecessary bureaucratic requirements and lack of clear proactive faculty development programs,” the report reads.

In this position, the vice president would have a “direct voice in the president’s cabinet.”

“This change will foster a transparent and direct line of communication and collaboration between faculty and the institution,” the report reads. “This position will work closely with the Provost’s office and Human Resources to develop and implement faculty development, leadership and retention programs. The new VP of Faculty Affairs will be better equipped to focus on faculty pipeline strategies, outreach programs, financial incentives and marketing approaches.”

Facilities

In MGT’s efforts to combat decentralization and the resulting issues in regards to “management practices and processes,” the report recommended various consolidation efforts and the establishment or reorganization of three departments, including a restructuring of Facilities Management and the foundation of two new divisions: Facilities Planning and Construction, or FPC, and Facility Information Systems. The suggested changes to Facilities Management include the removal of the Associate vice president of Facilities and Operations to Finance in addition to The Office of Sustainability to Academic and Strategic Collaborations.

“As [A&M] works to improve in these areas, particularly in the face of rising operating costs and increasing user expectations, a more centralized, consolidated service unit will ensure greater efficiencies across the campus,” the report reads. “Specifically, the processes and systems of centralized and updated facilities will reduce maintenance needs.”

The suggestion from MGT in regards to the restructuring of Facilities Management is prompted by its decentralization bringing about difficulties in the upkeep of facilities due to miscommunication, delays in maintenance and repair, problems in “the planning and construction of new facilities” and physical security concerns. 

“At its core, Facilities Management is based on the premise that the efficiency of an organization is inextricably tied to the physical environment in which it operates,” the report reads. “This function creates a foundation for an organization to achieve its mission and goals by combining and balancing, efficiency, effectiveness and cost. To this end, current best practice in facilities management underscores the need for centralized processes and systems.”

The proposal for the creation of the division of FPC stems from the decentralized nature affecting current “construction and renovation projects,” according to MGT’s report. The report also states many of the renovations proposed align with “creating new teaching and learning facilities that foster active learning,” and these projects can be better achieved through the reorganization of the facilities division.

“This lack of centralized control leads to high levels of process deviation that is associated with standard project development, including scope of work, schematic design, design development and construction,” the report reads. “This lack of clarity and a central point of contact can cause confusion in project funding and create an inconsistent delivery of final project documents to external Architectural and MEP partners, among others.”

Lastly, the MGT’s recommendation for the creation of a division of Facility Information Systems intends to “consolidate the existing siloed databases,” fighting the current disorganization in regards to record keeping and data management.

“Best practice in university facility oversight suggests the need for a consolidated facilities that adopted a centralized system for managing all activities and maintenance operation, such as a single computerized maintenance management system, [or CMMS],” the report reads. “One unified system can track record and collect data to inform and enhance facility efficiency, utilization and maintenance … This recommendation also aligns with peer institutions currently using more robust systems.”

Finance and business administration

Decentralization is also found in financial services, which, according to the report, is a difficult and inefficient way for administration to move and provide funds through the many departments and colleges. 

In the report’s suggested financial reorganization, finance would be headed by the vice president of Finance and chief financial officer. Under this position would be the Business Services Units, under which multiple schools, departments and offices would have “finance functions” reporting to the CFO indirectly, through a secondary supervisor. MGT reports this structure is a more efficient use of money, as the university “continues to receive less funding from traditional sources.”

“Centralizing a large amount of financial and budgetary activities under the CFO will allow for a consolidation of currently duplicated shared services,” the report reads. “Leveraging the benefits of centralized oversight and operations with performance-based budgeting can ensure that all essential services and costs, such as IT updates, are done in a consistent manner.”

Other findings in the report relating to finance place an emphasis on accountability or the lack thereof in the current decentralized structure. To resolve this, the report suggests a “matrix management structure” to create more collaboration in financial decisions.

“There is a need to integrate Academic Affairs Business Services, Data and Research Services and Enrollment Management into the Department of Finance to ensure a centralized budgetary decision-making team is determining priorities and coordinating the efforts between data and financial services,” the report reads. “This integration will better inform how financial decisions will be made.”

One such place the report states could suffer from the decentralization is the A&M Foundation, “a $2.5 billion entity.”

The main issue of the Foundation is the lack of an accountability system involved in “oversight of endowment funded expenditures and stewardship-related activities,” according to the report. This relates to the frequent donations the university receives, and the appropriate credit which should be given for it. The implemented system would involve more of a follow-up process for donor-related activity.

“Donor stewardship activities and management and oversight of endowment expenditures should have a centralized accountability structure that includes consistent reporting, management of accounts and feedback requirements,” the report reads. “This is an essential function to excellent stewardship and creating a culture of philanthropy at [A&M].”

The last finding in this section addresses the research conducted through the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. As of now, researchers may choose either AgriLife or A&M to supervise their research grant activity, which MGT found inefficient. The recommendation is to channel all of the division’s research administration through AgriLife.

“Creating a single administrative home for managing grants and facilities under AgriLife would result in efficiencies and significant savings, positions the college to become more competitive for state and federal funding, and will enable AgriLife to address comprehensive issues that support both AgriLife and the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences,” the report reads. 

Human resources and organizational effectiveness

As a continuation of the push toward centralization, MGT suggested the elimination of the Human Resources Liaison Network and instead a push for a “one-stop human resources center.” MGT found the current A&M structure lacking in consistency and having varying levels of oversight, which they say has the potential to lead to problems. Additionally, the report called to consolidate payroll for all faculty, staff and student workers into one entity. 

“A one-stop human resource service center allows students, faculty and staff to know where to turn for resources and assistance with hiring, onboarding, payroll and benefits questions,” the report reads. “Having a centralized human resources service center focused on customer service creates consistency in policies and practices and reduces redundancy of services across the campus, while also improving accountability for these critical services.”
As a way to bridge the gap between the current HR departments, the report recommended the university provide cross-training for employees to pull together during peak times in the year such as the beginning of the academic year and during open enrollment for health benefits. 
“These high-demand seasons require a higher volume of HR support staff to meet the demands efficiently and effectively,” the report reads. “Another benefit of cross-training is that staff who have skills in multiple support services can continue to provide support services in the event of staff absences.”
With A&M’s goal of creating future leaders in mind, MGT suggested a student employee program to focus on succession planning, which can assist with the quick turnover rate of student workers. 
“This recommendation includes elevating the Talent Management department to become responsible for promoting employee success and succession planning,” the report reads. “Implementing talent management strategies consistently will ensure the campus has appropriate plans in place for anticipated staff transitions.”
For the benefit of tenured professors, the report recommended A&M invest in a voluntary phased separation program where professors can retire over three years. 

“A program that allows selected tenured faculty with 20 years of full-time service to [A&M] retire over a period of [three] years under a VSP payment agreement will provide [A&M] flexibility to plan and invest in a comprehensive faculty hiring program that ensures transfer of critical information to and mentoring for the new faculty hires,” the report reads. 
Information technology

As a result of reported accounts of redundancies and inadequate customer experiences, MGT concluded A&M’s current Information Technology, or IT, system is lacking for the size of the university. The identification of duplications of IT services across campus would allow for a more consolidated and efficient Information Technology unit.

“Various stakeholders expressed concern over the performance of the existing Information Technology structure,” the report reads. “This review confirmed the Information Technology structure at [A&M] is rife with the referenced redundancies and fails to capitalize on the economy of scale possible in a large institution.” 

This consolidation will place all IT services — with the exception of AgriLife and Engineering — under one unit to embrace fiscally responsible administrative structures. A new Help Desk and ticketing system would become a primary resource for IT issues and inquiries. 

“AgriLife and Engineering should remain independent at this time due to requirements associated with Agency status,” the report reads. “A new Help Desk and ticketing system will become the main point of contact for all IT issues for faculty, staff and students to ensure higher quality, consistent customer service … [this] will reduce bureaucracy by improving services and creating a one-stop shop for all IT requests.”

A decentralized IT system has resulted in an unprepared campus cyber infrastructure, according to the report. In July and August, it was reported there was a 30 percent increase in the amount of cyber-attacks on educational institutions, and in September alone, A&M’s IT systems blocked 29.6 billion cyber-attacks and malware, 155 million malicious emails and 28 million virus downloads. Consolidation of IT will lead to improvements in the ability to manage campus-wide cybersecurity, according to the report.

“Data breaches have already impacted [A&M] and the risk for continued security issues persists,” the report reads. “[A&M] is encountering new and more sophisticated efforts that it must defend itself against and could be an easy target for an ever-growing class of cyber-criminal. With a stronger university-wide focus on cybersecurity, [A&M] can work to protect all categories of data from theft or exposure.”

Marketing and Communications

Marketing and Communications efforts have been reported by MGT as “generally uncoordinated” across internal and external university audiences, and a vast majority of communication efforts are unclear and inconsistent.
“There is duplication of efforts due to the lack of coordination and awareness of available resources, resulting in unnecessary spending and inefficient processes,” the report reads. “This lack of coordination among units also results in vital communication not reaching internal audiences, like students and faculty members, in a timely manner or at all. In some cases, vital communication reaches external audiences before internal audiences. Case studies show that decentralized Marketing and Communications efforts can compromise the university’s ability to communicate an aligned, consistent and effective message.” 
To create a centralized and effective Marketing and Communications system that functions across the university to adequately tell the university’s story while creating operational efficiency, the first steps should include the reclassification of the vice president for Brand and Business Development to Senior Associate VP of Marketing, according to the report.
“Reorganizing and aligning this vital organizational function and its objectives according to shared goals will allow [A&M] to respond to and support its internal and external stakeholders and constituents more effectively,” the report reads. 
To emphasize the importance of coordinated communication, MGT suggested the Division of Marketing and Communications should conduct an internal branding campaign, and proposed it is vital for all Marketing and Communications staff along with the leadership team to have a clear understanding of A&M’s identity. The report also recommends the Division of Marketing and Communications to collaborate with Human Resources to create brand-training processes for new employees.
“It is important to focus on differentiating the [A&M] brand and connecting individuals with the brand through strategic communication, not just advertising,” the report reads. “Research suggests universities that invest in their brand image, rather than only focus on creating awareness, are more successful in creating long-term recognition.”
A full version of this report can be found here

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