The Crisis of Reducing Costs and Maintaining Standards at Virginia’s State Colleges and Universities

Courtesy Virginia Tech

by James C. Sherlock

Virginia’s state-funded colleges and universities are too expensive.

Tuitions are the headline numbers.

But student fees and food and housing costs are as important to the budgets of families and individual students as tuition.

Costs within the college system have gone up because of a general lack of management systems and data to support oversight. They are going up further because of inflation in the economy.

Demand is going to plummet starting in 2025 as the “demographic cliff” of a 15 % drop in freshman prospects approaches due to the decline in birth rate in the 2008 recession that lasted for years thereafter.

The missing babies from 2008 would have begun entering college in 2025. Not a rosy scenario for the colleges. They all talk about it a great deal internally.

Some will have to get smaller to maintain student quality admissions standards or, alternately, lower those standards along with those of the programs of instruction.

Maintaining the same staff with smaller numbers of students will not work without massive price increases that they will not be able effectively to pass on without exacerbating the demand crisis.

Action is demanded, or parts of the Virginia higher education system, generally the smaller ones, are going to price themselves out of existence. The ones that do not act will be in a continuing crisis of their own making.

In the realm of enterprise disruptions, declining demand and increased costs are the big leagues.

Enterprise architecture (EA) is a discipline for supporting enterprise responses to disruptive forces by supporting the visualization, identification and analysis of change toward desired business outcomes.

The Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996, formally named the Information Technology Management Reform Act, requires EA in every corner of the federal government.  State governments, including Virginia, have largely adopted the same approach. The Centers for Medicare/Medicaid Services (CMS) defines EA as follows:

EA is a management engineering discipline presenting a comprehensive view of the enterprise, including strategic planning, organizational development, relationship management, business process improvement, information and knowledge management, and operations.

The elements of an enterprise architecture are business architecture, data (information) architecture, application (solutions) architecture and technology architecture, which are integrated and mutually supportive.

Virginia’s higher education institutions need to be able to describe, establish and maintain enterprise architectures. I am going to guess few have, even though the state requires them to do so. Even those that teach it.

Without it, big changes are nothing but spitballing with a signature. Boards of Visitors know what I mean.

Students and their parents seek from those institutions instruction and research opportunities. But they pay for a lot more than that. And I am not talking now about spas and spiritual wellness centers.

I hope there is already in place a structured approach to lowering costs, and thus tuitions/fees, at Virginia’s 39 state-funded colleges and universities without an impact on the quality of instruction and research, the two primary missions of such institutions.

Even before the demographic cliff.

Featherbedding at scale. The culprit for skyrocketing costs is thought by the public to be the costs of management and administration (M/A). Those who went to college in Virginia in earlier decades are simply bewildered and sometimes enraged by the expansion of those cost centers.

It appears, whether true or not, to be featherbedding at scale.

The Boards of Visitors. The boards and the public they represent need assurance that those costs are no higher than needed to support instruction and research.

For the boards who already have a good handle on all of that, tell the stakeholders you do and feel free to ignore the rest of this article.

The approach should be to get costs under control by setting upper limits in the overall budget and in the budgets of its semi-independent or independent divisions for the costs of management and administration relative to the total budget of each. EA’s are necessary to do that in a way that has relatively predictable outcomes.

Boards must maintain quality, but they also must maintain efficiency and effectiveness. To do that they will need unvarnished data. And, in many cases, better financial reporting systems and detailed employee categorization and utilization data.

Just like the businesses they are. Because they are publicly funded, they also owe transparency.

Management and administration is not a mission. I suspect M/A varies widely as a percentage of the budget among Virginia universities and colleges, and within divisions of each. It may have in some places grown relatively unnoticed, not the least because of the lack of actionable data to senior leadership, until it has become almost a third mission rather than a service.

I have no idea how many admissions staff, lawyers, accountants, Deans, assistant Deans, Center directors, HR people (to which category I assign DEI), etc. any one college or university needs or has. Or what percentage of the workforce and budgets those personnel represent. Or should represent.

The issue here is that Boards of Visitors need to know and need to assess the contributions of and demand for such costs and optimize them in order to keep tuition and fees as low as practicable and create efficient and effective organizations.

Near-independent units, like hospitals, some professional schools and the athletic departments, require similar systems to inform their decisions and those of their boards.

For example, Law and Darden are cash flow positive to the University of Virginia general account. Tuitions for those measurably valuable degrees are set at market rates.

Financial reporting systems. Virginia’s institutions of higher education must by regulation have modern financial reporting systems executed within an EA to support the business functions of the organization.  If we assume they do, we are optimists.  

In the last two weeks UVA has rolled out a totally new financial management system. It took two years to implement.  

All major financial reporting has just been ported over to new software. The kinds of reports that are needed may be, for the first time ever, feasible at that institution. The new systems will eventually reduce the demand for accounting staff, save money, provide access to previously inaccessible data, and streamline reporting of all sorts.   The question is when does “eventually” arrive?

So, up to now, since Thomas Jefferson was the Rector, the Board of Visitors has been largely flying blind, including during the FY 23 budget saga.

None of what I recommend here can be accomplished at UVa without the new system.  So, for many state institutions, systems investment will be needed.

Data. There are two levels of data possible, employee classification and employee time utilization. Employee classification is the minimum level of data, but it does not signal demand.

Some employee classifications may constitute pure overhead, like perhaps admissions and legal. Some may vary their time between general overhead work supporting university management and direct support to operating divisions, like some positions in financial accounting, H.R. and perhaps others.

To measure demand, boards need data on time utilization.

Employee classification. Among the many things I don’t know is how employees are classified and whether those classifications support assessing costs of each classification at each of Virginia’s academic institutions.

Or the M/A structures of each — distributed, centralized, near-independent or a mix of all three.

I recommend a meaningful classification system for such employees that will permit the production of meaningful reports from accounting data of the numbers and costs of management, administrative, instructional and research staff.

Each may have such a system already in place. If they do, good.  If not, then they should establish one.

Such a system by itself will identify primary responsibilities of each employee. But it will not indicate the demand as signified by time allocation by employees.

Time accounting. All employees sell their time to their employers. People, of course, do work outside their job descriptions.

Some in the service sector account for their time weekly on an hourly basis so that billing may be made to the right internal or external customers.

In those enterprises, the weekly time sheet is a sacrament.

Boards may wish to consider the necessity of charge numbers and time sheets if they do not already have them. Such time sheets for designated instructional and research personnel could indicate classroom time, research time and administrative time of each employee weekly.

Service centers, where appropriate, can charge their hourly time to the academic departments or research centers to which they provide services. Or to overhead when not providing direct support.

When an academic department has to assign a charge number to service centers for services provided, it will tend to pay far more attention to those charges than if the service centers are separately funded.

That is just a fact of life.

Gamesmanship and monitoring. Nothing focuses the minds of employees as much as a threat to what they consider their own interests.

Any system that gives the senior administration and boards enough information with which to allocate budgets will be gamed. In hierarchical structures, a second problem is that those who know the facts may be reluctant to reveal data to a superior who may be embarrassed by it.

There will need to be some system with which to monitor that and inspect where necessary.

Every school has internal and external auditors. The role of the external editors may have to be expanded to benchmarking and monitoring the costs at issue.

Capital investments. I suspect most boards have tighter control over the capital budgets than the personnel budgets, so I leave that alone for this discussion.

General Services. Services like fire, police, logistics, food services, and grounds and facilities maintenance are important, and need their own demand/supply assessments, but that is not the focus here.

Lessons learned and intellectual property sharing. One or more state institutions of higher learning may have solved the problem years ago that UVa thinks it just solved with its new financial accounting system .

I have no idea. Neither, I expect, does UVa. Which is the point.

Certainly there must be a way if, say, Virginia Tech or one of its contractors solves a problem in enterprise, financial systems or data architecture that the board and senior management at all 39 Virginia colleges and universities face, that such information, including the intellectual property, can be shared among those state schools.

Maybe it already is. But I doubt it. If there is, someone share the details.

I am not well positioned to figure out how that might be orchestrated, but it should be. People share incredibly un-useful information on the internet constantly.

Perhaps there can be a restricted-access web-based system to share this type of information among state institutions and make it more broadly useful. Or something.

Bottom line. Board oversight of demand for and costs of management and administrative services across their institutions requires better systems and data than some of them may have. And enterprise architectures with which to visualize the potential effects of changes.

With the cliff, academic demand and supply will need to be addressed as well. Another subject, same methodology.

The recommendations here are unexecutable with any assurance of success without them.

Reduction in authorized positions is possible in any bureaucracy. It has to be.  

But as a practical matter, overspending on management and administration positions for state employees needs to be reduced as much as possible by attrition, retirements and voluntary leaving, not firings.  

Two- (the FY 25 cliff), five- and 10-year plans of actions with milestones for rebalancing the ratios are the appropriate approaches, not instantaneous in-year changes.

The board can set goals and senior management can eliminate newly-open positions or reclassify them to achieve the structural balance required. Current employees in positions designated as excess can be given priority, incentivized and trained to apply for newly-reclassified and open positions.

Taxpayers, students and their parents deserve that, as do current employees.

Updated Jul 14 at 14:47.

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55 responses to “The Crisis of Reducing Costs and Maintaining Standards at Virginia’s State Colleges and Universities”

  1. Wow! Do you live in a dream world thinking higher ed knows anything about business, management, or how best to implement changes for the future.

    We just developed a five year plan at VT — down to the department level. I brought up three points: 1) I asked if anyone knew the last entity to base its planning on ‘five year plans’ and that nation-state ended up? — few knew the answer, 2) I asked how such a plan would have succeeded if we had undertaken this exercise in early 2019 or 2018 [to show the folly of such efforts]? and 3) I asked about the decreasing demographic — not a single prof knew what the forecast was for the next few years in college aged people.

    And yet VT builds buildings and states it wants to increase its standards and the number of students [where will those better students come from given their smaller numbers?]

    THE ANSWER to all of the above — unfettered student loans with no qualifications what so ever…… when you can get all the money you want from people who don’t understand finances…… it’s a great business model, without any knowledge of business practices.

    1. One final thought…. those making these decisions are people who have read a lot of books but not actually done anything — even in the business school.

      1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
        James C. Sherlock

        Some comments:
        – Virginia Tech is not a nation-state, it is a business.

        – Your comments indicate that Virginia Tech is badly led. Seriously? There was no discussion of the coming freshman cliff? No planning effort will work under bad leadership.

        – I discussed plans of actions with milestones (POA&M). You seem to refer to plans of action without measurable milestones, which are useless.

        – I am unfamiliar with the BOV at Tech, but the BOV at UVa is full of people with business backgrounds. They have just not had the tools they were used to in their businesses to support decisions.

        – You seem to think attempts to rationalized the budgeting process at universities are doomed. I say that the universities themselves are doomed if they cannot do it right, and offer a methodology that works.

        1. Warmac9999 Avatar

          There should also be a discussion of what happens when the various universities go woke rather than sticking with their successful education business models. Already, parents are taking a hard look at eve the “best” colleges and universities to see if they are worth not only the money but the grief.

          1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
            James C. Sherlock

            I agree with that.

          2. Warmac9999 Avatar

            I know of parents who have and are having the “total value” discussion and eliminating colleges and universities accordingly. This includes the Ivy League Colleges that are both expensive and cave into the radicals on campus. Also, skill based educations are being seen as a way of getting into a well paying trade rather than 4 years of useless learning Better a plumber than a social justice protestor..

    2. Warmac9999 Avatar

      The 5 year plan is a feature of socialist and communist societies like the Soviet Union. There is a book “Implementation(?)” that basically says no plan lasts intact beyond about 18 months because when one even tiny element of a plan changes the result over even a short time is explosive change. Sort of the butterfly effect.

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: ” Action is demanded, or parts of the Virginia higher education system, generally the smaller ones, are going to price themselves out of existence. The ones that do not act will be in a continuing crisis of their own making.”

    I don’t see a problem with this and especially so if the “solution” is to get govt even more involved in it.

    In fact, govt is already the problem by making loans too easy.

    Having the govt getting involved in how to make Colleges more “efficient” is.. what’s that word? oh yeah, oxymoron….

    Residential on-campus education has become an anachronism that govt has essentially propped up by irresponsible intervention in loan policies.

    Today, there are myriad ways for people to obtain the education they need to compete for 21 century jobs.

    The whole college-degree thing has become a scam where a lot of those degrees are not even sufficient for actual 21st century real world work and because of govt, any/all “degrees” are worthy of loans and no shortage of folks who will take a lifetime of debt in exchange for a worthless degree then expect the govt to forgive it.

    we need LESS govt in higher ed, not more. Let the things that should die – die and keep the govt out of “saving” it.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      The whole “college degree thing” is not a scam.

      I never recommended that “government get more involved in it”. I recommend that the Boards of Visitors take actions already within their authority and responsibility.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        whose board are appointed by govt?

        1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
          James C. Sherlock

          They are there to represent the interests of citizens in oversight of their state-funded colleges and universities. Have been for over 200 years. Hardly a news item.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            the point is you want the govt involved… right?

        2. YellowstoneBound1948 Avatar

          I enjoyed this exchange (Capt. Sherlock and Larry the G) very much. To begin at the beginning, I paid off my national defense loans exactly 50 years ago. On an army lieutenant’s pay! My wife and I spent our first two years in an apartment with no furniture. Today, I hear very few saying they are obligated to repay their student loans. Who will that expense be charged to? The college, of course.

          I earned a baccalaureate, a law degree, and an M.S. in health admin, all at major colleges and universities. Nine years in the classroom. I have second thoughts about it. Today, I am counseling my grandsons and their cousins to carefully think it over before making a commitment like that. One of my nephews, whose father was a civil engineer with an M.S. in Nuclear Engineering (from U. Va.) is painting and welding and making a fortune (about $150,000) for someone only 30 with one year of college.

          When the new generations realize how unnecessary it is to know much more than spreadsheets and balance sheets, more than a few colleges and universities will have to revamp their product offerings. At the moment, the BOV’s at my three alma maters seem to be frozen in a state of permanent intransigence.

          And, do not get me started on the salaries of college officials, very few of whom know anything about the budgeting process (an unsubstantiated claim on my part). In fact, I would much rather discuss U. of Alabama football. I have no problem supporting a successful program like that.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            Not too many like you these days. Way too willing to go into debt up to their eyeballs then expect govt to bail them out.

            If Sherlock addressed this aspect along with his other suggestions, it would have more import, at least to me.

            Nope. Sports does NOT belong in higher ed. We are the only country in the world that does that and to our own harm because we look the other way on “discrimination” on academics if someone in their younger years has physical fortune – and the odds of it becoming a lucrative pro career is terrible and most leave college with terrible educations… “used” is the word and we are okay with that because it’s fun to watch them on the field.

            Do what MIT does. Do what Cal Tech and other reputable higher ed do – stick to higher ed.

          2. James C. Sherlock Avatar
            James C. Sherlock

            You wish to make this article about intercollegiate athletics. It is not.

            If I wish to write a column on that subject, it will present a complex, nuanced view of a complex, nuanced subject.

          3. YellowstoneBound1948 Avatar

            Captain, you may have intended your reply to Larry the G for me. I raised the “subject” of college football, but only as a throwaway line. It was a feeble attempt to lighten the mood here, which is increasingly dark. But, speaking of college football, the U. of Alabama football team funds every other sport at Alabama, including scholarships for hundreds of underprivileged youngsters who we know nothing about because no attends their matches (water polo, field hockey, and the like). I tried to lighten the mood yesterday by referencing my daughter’s legacy status at William & Mary, on the record of her 8th great-grandfather, Richard Bland. I don’t think anyone responded.

          4. Warmac9999 Avatar

            W&M is a good college. However, it is undoubtedly leftists and administer that way increasingly so. The Wren Chapel and Gene Nichols is but one example.

  3. Higher ed in Virginia has paid lip service to cutting costs, but most initiatives have been surface level. Higher-ed is quick to put resources into new initiatives reflecting growing demand (cyber-security, data science) but slow to scale back programs where demand has shriveled (Slavic languages, say, or religious studies). Another problem, as Jim alludes to above, is administrative overhead. The DEI bureaucracy is likely the tip of the iceberg. Back when I was covering this issue in depth, I found so many areas that went largely unexamined. The root problem is that universities are not profit-maximizing institutions — they are prestige-maximizing institutions. They have no sense, as private businesses do, of reallocating capital and assets from low-productivity uses to high-productivity uses. The imperative is always to spend more on new stuff but rarely to prune back the old stuff.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      Inflation, citizen resistance to skyrocketing tuitions and the freshman cliff have popped that bubble, or soon will.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        the part you did get right was popping the bubble – but not the big ones, the smaller ones… going away just like mom/pops do when Walmart comes to town.

        1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
          James C. Sherlock

          I hesitate to ask, but which part of the article did I not “get right”? You can write. I will just read and learn.

  4. NotJohnConnor Avatar

    3 points: 1) State rules explicitly prohibit cost savings at universities. The purchasing rules alone add significant cost. They require going out to bid with “SWAM” vendors who place the order you spec out, and then add their cut even on unique sole manufacturing source items; 2) there are layers of bureaucracy related to state SCHEV and accrediting reports, “Sustainability”, DEI, and student success initiatives that are only recently added. It’s not faculty numbers and salaries driving increased costs; 3) in spite of the “demographic cliff” some universities (looking at my alma mater VT and UVA to some extent) are actively moving in the opposite direction and growing enrollments, which will actively harm smaller state schools. One size definitely does NOT fit all, and by harming the diversity of schools, they state is harming diversity of opportunity. I’m not sure what is driving the increase at VT; is it presidential ego, or political pressure from NOVA parents upset their kids can’t get into VT?

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      Good points. But it still falls to the BOVs and senior executive leadership to manage the institutions to ensure their financial viability. Personnel are the biggest costs. They need to be managed. And generally have not been.

      Inflation, the approaching freshman cliff and citizen resistance to high tuitions and fees are a perfect storm that will blow away past ways of doing business. I just hope they adjust quickly enough.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        Call me skeptical but I doubt seriously that BOVs manage the financials of most higher ed – on the cost side.

        Or perhaps, you could write a blog post highlighting some existing higher eds that actually do that.

        The big higher eds are not going away but they’re going to flush the smaller ones… and in the end , be even more immune to competition.

        If you want change – change the way that college loans are done and force students and their parents to take more responsibility for the finances.

      2. dave schutz Avatar
        dave schutz

        The spectacular success of Mitch Daniels looms over this discussion. He’s retiring! Maybe this administration can get onto bended knee and wheedle him into providing some advice!

  5. dave schutz Avatar
    dave schutz

    “Gamesmanship and monitoring. Nothing focuses the minds of employees as much as a threat to what they consider their own interests.

    Any system that gives the senior administration and boards enough information with which to allocate budgets will be gamed. ”

    One of my favorite phrases in this context: “If beans is what you count, beans is what you are gonna get”

    1. LarrytheG Avatar


  6. John Harvie Avatar
    John Harvie

    Just looking at the pyramid above my initial reaction it is basically upside down.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      As a retired enterprise architect, I disagree. So does the federal government and the Commonwealth of Virginia to name just two.

      1. John Harvie Avatar
        John Harvie

        I’m not questioning the need; only the relative priorities.

        1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
          James C. Sherlock

          John, the reason that the first part of the architecture is a description of the business operations is to ensure the rest of the architecture supports those operations and that subordinate parts of the architecture work together towards that goal. It was a reaction by the government to endless development cycles detached from operational reality that produced little of operational value at great expense.

        2. Lefty665 Avatar

          John, there is logic to what you say. If you start at the top with mission, then work down through goals, objectives then policies and procedures you derive what resources you need to achieve them.

          Lay that up against the EA view and you may get an interesting look at how to structure the organization, At least the places where the models vary deserve attention,

          Remember, Sherlock’s experience with EA is in the context of the Federal government’s data hall of horrors. Think Obamacare rollout and the IRS. It may not have as much relevance in other environments.

    2. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      The Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996 required that every Federal agency develop an Enterprise Architecture.

  7. Warmac9999 Avatar

    I would suggest that these institutions of higher education consult some of the private schools about how to be creative and live within their means. This idea that you can simply throw up another building and they will come certainly doesn’t account for advances in online technology. I also think Liberty University might be a model as it has a strong online systems as well as in person learning. Give Biden a chance and nobody will be going to in person learning because it will be too damned expensive.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      Consulting with private schools is an excellent idea. It is an even better one if the two institutions that consult are relatively well matched across a range of metrics.

      1. Warmac9999 Avatar

        Not necessarily. Sometimes the best ideas come from the unknown and unexpected. I spent most of my time managing R&D. What walked through the door was often unexpected yet earth shattering – a diamond in the manure pile.. As with the Andromeda Strain, you need the guy or gal who hasn’t a clue why they are there but comes up with the solution out of the blue.

        1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
          James C. Sherlock

          It happens.

      2. dave schutz Avatar
        dave schutz

        Purdue! Mitch Daniels! ArizonaState!

  8. Lefty665 Avatar

    Interesting post, but a lot of generals and no specifics. Beware the old IT fantasy of ‘the latest and greatest”. The old system couldn’t do squat, but this new wondrousness is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

    I don’t question that it was time for UVA to update its accounting software or that the new stuff has some virtues. I also do not doubt that the bean counters have been counting beans for a long, long time, and that accounting systems have long been able to pile up the beans the way management wants to look at them. I’ve had my nose in several not for profit and public accounting systems over the years. Some things were easier in some systems and harder in others, but in the end they could all provide meaningful management reporting. Management was the most important variable, it had to know what it wanted and ask for/demand it.

    As an example, time tracking and allocation is a problem that was widely solved in automated systems 40-50 years ago. If it is still a problem at UVA is because the university chose not to solve it. A wonderful new system will not automatically fix that.

    Industries have statistical norms. There is no indication of what they are in higher education or how UVA compares to them. A simple example is in the not for profit world 15% administrative overhead is a common threshold. Go over that and funding sources start looking over their glasses at you skeptically. What is it at UVA, and how does that compare with other universities?

    Do not let the size of UVA hide the issues or baffle you with the cosmicness of it all. Large organizations are complicated because they have a lot of moving parts. It takes significant structure to keep track of and report them. That is why bean counters exist, and why they play a valuable role. However, the overall issues are straightforward. We look to management to provide reporting that illuminates them both for their own use and clear reporting to external bodies/stakeholders.

    Auditors provide important functions. The first of which are that the accounting systems provide materially correct financial information, and while not designed to discover financial wrongdoing (those are forensic audits, and a whole different ball game) will detect some defalcation. The second of which are an assessment of the financial system, how the organization stacks up with similar institutions, material defects that must be fixed, and recommendations for improvement. Do UVAs audits provide those functions? If so what do they tell us?

    You’ve got an interesting start. I hope you build on it.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      You ask good questions to which this reporter does not have the answers, just what I think the answers may be. So that is not worth sharing.

      And even then I have information at some depth at only one of the universities among Virginia’s 39 state colleges and universities.

      But what I wrote is not about “updating the software”. And an enterprise architecture is not described to support the bean counters. In fact, both the EA and bean counters have jobs to support the business decision makers.

      In your time working you inevitably worked with some versions of systems architectures.

      I do not know if you worked with enterprise architectures. You may have.

      If you did not, the difference is that the components of an enterprise architecture are built to serve the business functions, not vice versa.

      To the eternal disappointment and some fury of the techies, the business architecture is described first, then the information required to support the business requirements, then the solutions architecture, typically applications, then finally the technical architecture to run the applications.

      It is not possible to describe how much the techies and systems program managers hate EAs. So they fight creating them and when they are created work around them whenever possible.

      Enterprise architectures, required in state universities, are built to support business decision makers, including the BOVs and senior management. They are the responsibility by regulation of the institution’s CIO.

      I have pointed out that they are required, and very useful if employed. I hope they will be.

      1. Lefty665 Avatar

        I think you’re doing interesting reporting. I encourage it.

        EA. yeah, yeah, blah, blah, blah. Cosmic! I infer someone has bedazzled you with the wondrousness of the EA paradigm.

        We start with mission, followed by goals and objectives and implemented through policies and procedures. EA is a reworded mirror of that. It is not a spectacular blinding flash of genius. I did it with my customers CEOs for decades. If we did it it can’t be but so hard.

        What you care about is measuring what UVA is doing. Getting tangled up in process deflects you from that mission.

        Don’t be seduced by oh we’d like to share that with you, but our old system was just so horrible we haven’t known nuttin’ about the University for more than 200 years. As much as we’d love to we can’t do anything about that until the place is thoroughly EAized, and we’re sure you are sufficiently sophisticated to appreciate the profoundness of that. You’re not an oaf are you?

        I encourage you to tell your source to pull the other one it’s got bells on.

        If it took two years to implement their new EA compliant jewels and they started by porting the old reporting systems it will be more years before you get the dazzling newness. How long do you want to wait?

        I respectfully suggest you start at the top and work down.

        Specifically, what is available in the way of budgets and financial/management reporting (as flawed as it is) and audits? Board minutes? What have you looked at? If reporting is not readily available is it FOIAable? Audits will be available as public records as will 990s if there are affiliated 501c3 entities.

        Keep at it, you’re on a good issue, and don’t let the trees keep you from seeing the forest.

        1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
          James C. Sherlock

          I’m pretty much done with this subject.

          I have written nearly 4,000 words in a deep dive into state university budgeting processes and a detailed suggestion on how to reduce costs and bureaucracy at such institutions.

          I doubt readers have ever seen that level of reporting on those two issues. I also doubt their is a general appetite for more.

          1. Lefty665 Avatar

            Too bad, that is disappointing.

            Promoting EA is a deep dive? I hoped you were going to provide something substantive.

            You know the thingies, numbers. It does not get any simpler than what is UVAs percentage of administrative overhead? What was it 10 years ago, 20 years ago? What changed? If nothing (which we both doubt) then the explanation lies elsewhere. If it changed, what changed and why?

            You can bet your bippy the bean counters know. It is also likely that management does not want to tell you. Among ways to prevent telling are to obfuscate with process, to bitch about inadequate information systems and to promise the new religion, EA, will get us into heaven someday.

          2. James C. Sherlock Avatar
            James C. Sherlock

            “You know the thingies, numbers. It does not get any simpler than what is UVAs percentage of administrative overhead? “

            Well, Lefty, you won’t accept my answer that the University leadership doesn’t know the answer to that question. Neither, I will wager, do the vast majorities of the boards of visitors of Virginia’s 38 other schools.

            Which is what I spent all of the research time validating that UVa’s board did not have that information. Which you clearly reject as impossible in your wide experience.

            And then I spent time recommending how they would best get that information.

            You opined that I can “bet my bippy” that the bean counters know. I will submit that you have no idea what the “bean counters” at UVa know.

            I am of the impression that the UVa BOV will pursue answers to both.

            So we are done here. We are operating on different planets. Have a nice rest of your week.

          3. Lefty665 Avatar

            Sigh. It is really very simple. Without looking at the numbers UVA produces you cannot have any idea what they “know”. Period. Full Stop.

            You assert your conclusion without taking even the simplest most basic step to become informed. Don’t confuse you with the facts, you have made up your mind.

            Further you extend your ignorance of the facts to the rest of Virginia’s schools. All without ever looking at the first number any of the schools produce. That is rather astonishing. Dunning Kruger Syndrome perhaps? But wait, there is more. You compound that with a prescription of a wondrous institution saving EA approach to IT that you show no evidence of knowing any more about than actual current financial and management reporting.

            I do not doubt that the information systems and IT departments at Virginia’s schools have short comings. Every one ever invented does. But this is 2022 and these folks have been doing automated information systems for around 50 years. They are not stupid and they have not been striving to keep themselves uninformed, foreign as that concept may be to you. Administrative overhead has been an issue for all that time. The chances are pretty good that they have, and have long had, some idea what those numbers are.

            You pursued a career in the Navy, honorable public service. I went to the B school, majored in management, hung around too long and took all the accounting classes too.

            My career is 35 years as CEO of an IT company. In addition to hardware, OS and networking we wrote and vended a fund balance accounting system to public and not for profit organizations. It is still in use.

            We also operated back office (bean counting, and my bean counters understood the numbers they produced) systems for some of our customers. I served as CFO for some of those organizations.

            While I know absolutely nothing about UVAs systems in particular I have had my nose down far enough into enough public IT systems in Virginia to have a fair understanding of how they work and what they are capable of.

            I agree, “we are operating on different planets”.

            Mine happens to be informed reality of information systems, financial and organization management.

            On yours you have not chosen to trouble your head with those pesky number thingies but you have not let that stop you from proposing grand solutions. You were in the Navy weren’t you?

            Have a nice day.

          4. James C. Sherlock Avatar
            James C. Sherlock

            I am humbled.

          5. Lefty665 Avatar

            That’s a start. Acknowledging the disability is the first step on the road to rehabilitation.

            If you would like to actually figure out what UVA “knows” or doesn’t I’d be willing work with you to see what we can learn.

          6. James C. Sherlock Avatar
            James C. Sherlock

            I talked extensively with a long-serving member of the BOV at UVa on this very subject and he offered precisely what they knew and did not know in preparing the budget. And how glad they are to have the new system.

            But you would have had to read what I wrote to understand that.

            After my Naval service I spent a decade as a certified Enterprise Architect supporting the federal government, fighting off technology program managers who, despite federal law (Clinger-Cohen), wanted no part of understanding and being subordinated to business processes under an enterprise architecture. You can probably imagine what jerks they were.

            So spare me your world-weary sighs.

            As we agree, different world views.

          7. Lefty665 Avatar

            You have yet to look at the first number or to get any sense of what UVA “knows”.

            A BOV member not getting data needed to make decisions has failed his/her job and needs to be replaced. I would guess, and that’s all it is, that BOV’s involvement in budgeting is at the global level. The last thing anyone wants is to get them down into details. You went to the wrong source for the information you were nominally looking for.

            I read what you wrote. That is why I objected.

            Entrenched IT departments can be real PITAs. They do at least have an interest in numbers so they have some virtues over the willfully ignorant.

            “As we agree, different world views.”

            Yes, one based on knowledge, the other reveling in ignorance. Sigh.

            Have a nice day.

          8. James C. Sherlock Avatar
            James C. Sherlock

            For a which here I treated you as a serious person and went along. I was wrong, and am done.

            I would describe you as megalomaniacal, but you have no power here. Must miss it – you must have been a bundle of laughs to work for. But you are retired now, and no one here ever worked for you. Or would have. Or cares what you think.

            Cue the world weariness. How to you get out of bed in the morning?

            Next time you do, look in the mirror, though I suspect nothing could stop you. You will see looking back at you one of those technology PMs I described as intransigent. They were not right, but they were sure.

            Then read your utterly insufferable remarks on this article. I believe you told me what I needed to do, and told me you would help if I was wise enough to ask.

            I called them jerks. You are proving it.

          9. Lefty665 Avatar

            Sigh, you’re back to the ad hominems. Too bad your actual skills are not nearly as developed. You might actually have accomplished something admiral.

            It is truly astonishing that you have devoted considerable effort to identifying overhead bloat at UVA but have not looked at a single number. That adds a whole new dimension to innumerate. Congrats or something.

            I offered to lend a hand in an area I know something about. It is not a surprise you’d rather eat worms.

            Have a nice day.

          10. James C. Sherlock Avatar
            James C. Sherlock

            “I would guess … You went to the wrong source for the information you were nominally looking for.”

            Bad guess.

            I noted in the first column that I wrote directly from my notes from my source. That source is a very distinguished Virginian and a veteran of BOV service.

            You really are insufferable to assume otherwise.

          11. Lefty665 Avatar

            You are welcome, my pleasure, but despite my best efforts you still failed the class. You show so little aptitude for the subject perhaps you should consider changing your major.

            Board management is a vital skill for CEOs. By the time someone gets to the level of UVA executive it is well developed.

            Information management is one of the primary tools used for board management. Boards often get the information needed to make the
            decisions management wants and not much more.

            If the BOV member you have been talking to is not on the Finance Committee it is likely he or she has been given only very general
            financial information. He or she may be under the misimpression that is all the data UVA has.

            The issue is likely not whether data exists, but access to it. No matter how good the latest and greatest system is there is no guarantee the BOV will get any better information on overhead bloat.

            But you will never know because you have not looked at the numbers for now, for 10 years ago, or ever. You won’t know if they’ve changed.

            Way to go Sherlock, you are no Holmes. I’m sure you’ve heard that many times in your life.

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