UVa Takes on A Daunting Task – Reforming Its Own Management and Administrative Structure

By James C. Sherlock

A favorite topic of mine is management and administrative overhead in state government institutions of higher learning.

While a major university is a very large business with significant management and administrative needs, the overhead numbers seem higher than necessary.

Overhead has certainly grown over the last few decades at a rate far in excess of the increases in tenured instructional and research faculty and students.

This excessive overhead is expensive in multiple ways including:

  • very high dollar costs;
  • the time that line academics consume for meetings with and reports to the leaders, managers and administrators; and
  • general slowness of decision cycles.

To investigate, I singled out the flagship University of Virginia for an informal audit.

The University, to its credit, has decided to take on the task of streamlining and rationalizing its management and administrative structure.

That castle will prove very difficult to storm.  Yet a siege may take literally forever.  The defenders are powerful, well-entrenched and well-provisioned.

The University has admitted publicly that it does not have a handle on its personnel structure.

Most government organizations have rules defining a pyramid framework for their personnel structures to which hiring and promotions must be aligned.

The federal government, both military and civilian, certainly has well-defined pyramids.  In the federal civil service, for example, some of the basic rules for the positions in the structure are the number and grade of people managed, the amount of money managed, or both.

Most governments at least claim to continuously work to:

reveal the need for new skills and types of work, the need for fewer or more positions … and the need to design new ways of working to leverage technology.

Artificial intelligence promises a new industrial revolution in workforce structuring.  But it won’t happen un-resisted.

Wealthy hybrid institutions like UVa, with a mix of government and other funding, have both the financial resources and lack of oversight to create new bureaucracies whether they need them or not.

Being able to pay for something, however, does not mean the organization can afford it in the larger sense of mission effectiveness and efficiency.

The research for this article took several days because there is no central source for the required data.  I submitted a FOIA request, and was told the information was unavailable.

It proved available, but the effort for an outsider is a manual one, going through multiple university web pages with multiple information formats, sorting the senior managers and administrators from the helpers, hand-counting and listing on spreadsheets to come up with even approximate answers.

I counted 651 such positions, just at the University and Schools levels.  Not counting the school departments.  And not counting faculty.

That helps speak to the cost of residential real estate in the Charlottesville /Albemarle area.

The positions are also, as happens, unevenly distributed.

University Level.  I counted 163 senior positions at the university level that include:

  • President of the University
  • 3 Executive Vice Presidents, one of which is the Provost
  • A University Counsel
  • A Counselor to the President
  • 10 Vice Presidents
  • 14 Academic Deans
  • 4 CEOs of various bodies
  • 10 Vice Provosts
  • 2 Presidents within the Medical Center
  • 19 Assistant Vice Presidents
  • 4 Senior Associate Vice Presidents
  • 20 Associate Vice Presidents
  • 7 Associate University Counsels
  • 8 Executive Directors
  • 1 Managing Director
  • 2 Senior Directors
  • 13 Directors
  • 22 Chiefs of various things
  • a University Architect, University Buildings official, University Librarian and Dean of Libraries, University Treasurer and the Chair of the Faculty Senate
  • DEI has a Division at the University level that works for Vice President for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Community Partnerships Kevin G. McDonald.  It has a Chief of Staff, an Associate VP, two Assistant VPs, two Senior Directors, three Directors, a Program Manager, a Program Coordinator, a University-Community Liaison and a University Title IX Coordinator.

Many are clearly necessary.  Some not so clearly, at least at the associated pay grades, for which the school has no current standards.

Most have their own staffs, administrative assistants and assorted aides not accounted for here.  All require offices.

Academic Schools.  Then there are, at my count, 488 senior management and administrative jobs at the Academic Schools (Engineering, College of A&S, Medicine, etc.) level.  I did not count positions at the College at Wise.

There are in the resultant spreadsheet 22 columns of job titles plus specialized titles in the “others” column.  You can examine those positions here.  You will see that the Deans were not accounted at the schools level because they appear at the University level.

Once again, staffers without management or administrative titles indicating oversight responsibilities are not counted at the school level.

The university has set itself a challenge to sort out and rationalize both what identical position designations at the university and Schools level actually do (or should do) and what they are paid.  And to figure out what some of the designations even mean.

From afar, the Medical School appears to be able to offer lessons in management efficiency to the rest.

Academic Departments.  I ignored the academic departments (English, Physics, Surgery, etc.) entirely in an attempt to avoid swelling the numbers with part-time management and administrative jobs for academics and researchers.

The numbers of such personnel within the departments of each school are enormous.

I gave the example the other day of the 29 departmental Directors of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion within just the College of Arts and Sciences.

UVa Health.  I ignored the hospital and the rest of UVa Health for this survey.

Bottom Line.  I was an enterprise architect for various government organizations, both late in my career in the Navy and in private practice.

Fortunately, my first engagement was to describe a large new entity – a major training, analysis and simulation center – within an existing joint military organization.

I was blessed that I started with a blank sheet of paper. I was able to approach it in textbook fashion to existing federal enterprise architecture standards.  There was no “there” there until my work was done.

In contrast, whoever leads the University effort will have to deal with incumbents who will be sure he or she is after their jobs.

As a contractor I was assigned  to help implement Vice President Gore’s “Reinventing Government.”  We got paid, but the agencies with which I dealt early in that program simply were not having it.  They planned to wait out the storm (and President Clinton’s term) until both passed.

I wish the University well.

But I am afraid that a lack of re-structuring to realize newly available efficiencies may burden UVA and other Virginia government institutions, and thus Virginia citizens, for a very long time.