This Date in UCSF History: Report urges steps against bureaucracy

[This article first appeared in Synapse - The UCSF student newspaper, on Sept. 15, 1988]

A study of administrative practices at UCSF, commissioned by Chancellor Julius Krevans, concludes that sweeping changes are called for.

The report, conducted by a private management consultant, addresses problems that have exasperated faculty and staff for years, from sluggish elevators and long construction delays, to archaic accounting procedures and confusing lines of authority.

Bureaucratic waste, the failure to provide incentives to economize, and inefficient, often unresponsive monopolies in critical services are all cited as major problems. Plant maintenance, accounting and computer services are also singled out for particular concern.

The analysis, completed in June, was conducted by Robert Derzon and his colleagues at Lewin/ICF of San Francisco. Derzon formerly directed UCSFs medical center.

“The Chancellor's central services face more powerful incentives to satisfy their users than to economize. Some units, however, satisfy their consumers neither on the basis of quality nor cost,” the report notes.

“In part this is a consequence of internal monopolies and/or user expectations that services will be ‘on call’ and totally flexible in meeting sporadic demands.”

Inadequate budgeting and cost-reporting systems make it difficult or impossible for managers to keep abreast of their own spending, according to the report. And UCSF's failure to maintain uniform statistical data causes confusion and duplication of effort, it adds.

“Examples abound and often confounded our efforts to track simple facts,” the report notes. In one case, Dcrzon discovered that the Nursing School maintains its own records for contracts and grants “because the school feels it cannot rely on the Contracts and Grants unit.”

The individual schools are faulted for failing to take responsibility for certain administrative functions.

“For example, we believe the School of Medicine is exerting insufficient discipline toward construction activity,” the report notes. “The Dean and his staff do not work closely with the department chairs to develop schedules, to authorize budgets, and to fit projects into a manageable set of priorities.”

A matter of growth The report, ordered last December, was based on interviews with upper and middle managers.

“It was a general feeling,” says Dr. David Ramsay, academic vice chancellor, “that this institution has grown a lot in the last few years, and very successfully, and that it was time to take a good, hard look at the administrative structure.” Krevans was unavailable for comment. Dr. Henry Ralston, chairman of the Anatomy Department, agrees about the source of the problems.

“Some things may have been soft-peddled, but IDcrzon] tried to address issues in an institution that has grown very rapidly, with an infrastructure that has sometimes adapted well, sometimes not,” he says.

Concern over the non-academic administration has been rising for some time, according to Zach Hall, chairman of the Physiology Department.

“The problems touch many facets of campus life, and the

basic science chairs are very concerned,” he says. “The Laurel Heights lawsuit and the radiation-safety problems have contributed to a sense of siege on campus -that we're not supported or understood by our neighbors or the city.”

The UCSF chain of command needs streamlining and reorganization, according to the report, in order “to focus management talent on the most urgent issues.”

The report adds that “we believe UCSFs organization chart has been skewed disproportionately to fit personalities.” Derzon declined a Synapse request to describe this problem in greater detail.

Derzon hits the service units and schools for “buck-passing” referring many “bad-news” decisions up to the chancellor's office.

This is exacerbated by “too many levels of decision-making authority, resulting in the absence of meaningful accountability.”

He criticizes senior campus officials for being passive and imprecise in their dealings with the central services.

The report links high costs and inefficiency to excessive “paper-churning” generated by several levels of approval for even relatively minor decisions.

For example, “a personnel department should not have to approve the majority of personnel actions,” as long as hiring guidelines are clearly defined. And an

“Quadruplication” is a term used for 'business as usual' at UCSF, the report says.

Improved information system could reduce frequent complaints of “quadruplication” a term for “business as usual at UCSF,” used by campus management services officers (MSOs), the report adds.

“Cost control and concerns about efficiency are not a part of the managerial culture in the Chancellor's services,” the report notes.

“Top managers rarely have set firm budget targets for service unit directors or met with them to set annual goals,” it continues.

The system may work for “highly motivated faculty entrepreneurs,” but “this lack of goals, expectations and decisions about support makes it both difficult to distinguish strong versus weak managerial performance and robs [service-unit] managers of the satisfaction of achieving defined goals.”

Managers are also frustrated by being required to use campus services, such as Education Media Resources, that are not competitive with equivalent private businesses off campus, the report says.

A few units, including educational media, microcomputer services, and research and development, might be able to reduce costs by selling their services off campus, the report suggests.

If they cannot compete in the outside world, some of these operations “should be sized to meet the bona fide needs of UCSF.”

Budget cuts were recommended for public information services and development (fund raising).

The Derzon report also urges that the responsibility for the chancellor's services be “clearly assigned and organized functionally so that department chairmen... and other managers know clearly who is responsible for what functions.”

The report also suggests establishing two new vice chancellor posts -one for budget and finance, and the other for public relations, to consolidate areas by function and reduce the burdens on executives in the current structure.

Critics interviewed by Derzon targeted construction and plant maintenance most frequently. High charges “unrelated to the actual services provided,” cost overruns billed to the departments, and excessive delays and moves during multi-phase projects were high on the list of complaints.

Capital Project Management, which oversees construction, was also scored for failing to publish a description of its services and fees, and for being soft on outside architects and contractors whose miscalculations lead to higher costs.

In the past, most construction or building maintenance has been costly, yet of poor quality, according to Ralston, who says UC's policy of taking the lowest bid may make such outcomes inevitable.

“If you always go for the low bidder, you often get someone who can't do the job properly,” he says.

A classic example of difficulties with construction, says Chris Slaboszewicz, the Biochemistry Department's MSO, was when Capital Project Management estimated costs for a remodeling job, but forgot to include plumbing. Only after the job started was the error noticed, creating a budgetary mess.

Ramsay notes, however, that frequent “change orders” requested by faculty members during the course of construction are a major factor in high costs.

“Last-minute alterations in remodeling or building a lab are mainly due to the fact that the campus provides very little guidance,” according to Hall.

“Scientists lack expertise in design and construction. This leads to mistakes that must be corrected.”

Researchers are also frustrated by the requirement that they pay for basic necessities, such as asbestos removal and plumbing for eye-wash stations, he adds.

“It's like living in a rented house and being asked to pay for major structural changes. I think there should be a special fund -that's what we pay overhead for.”

“What [Derzon] said was not far off base,” acknowledges Joanne Lewis, assistant vice chancellor for facilities. “[But] if you look at the reasons for this, some of them are historic, and some are related to the way the campus approaches the funding of service units.”

Project management is mostly supported by billing users directly for what are often costly services. Cost overruns, however, can and will be controlled, according to Lewis.

Regarding problems with quality, Lewis adds: “We certainly would like some recognition for the improvements that have been made, but both the physical plant and project management departments are looking at ways to be more customer oriented and responsive, and to communicate better.”

Logistical difficulties also send building expenses through the roof. The densely packed Parnassus campus makes maneuvering heavy equipment problematic.

There are few freight elevators, and proper staging areas are virtually nonexistent. In addition, San Francisco labor costs are high.

All of these factors contribute to construction costs that are among the steepest of any university medical center in the country, according to several administration and faculty sources MSO survey Faculty concerns about campus administration prompted the School of Medicine department chairs to order a study of their own last spring.

Slaboszewicz was asked to chair a committee of five MSOs, who surveyed their peers throughout the school. They found general agreement -that largely parallels Derzon's findingson four major areas:

•Lack of coordination of computer services.

•Inadequate incentives for improving service and reducing the costs to users.

•Inadequate communication between services and users.

•Lack of accountability of the service units to users.

The MSOs also ranked 45 central administrative services by overall performance. The top units were legal services, student accounting (stipends), contracts and grants, development and training, campus police and payroll.

The lowest-ranked units were environmental health and safety, computer services, animal care, and all aspects of construction, remodeling and building maintenance. The school's chairs used the survey data to develop a list of service units that require the most urgent attention.

Again, these overlapped greatly with Derzon's report. Ralston and the Obstetrics Department chairman, Dr. Robert Jaffe, urged Krevans to establish a committee of administrators and service users in order to improve communication and attack service problems head on. Ramsay says a version of that proposal will soon be implemented.

Differing views on Impact

The administrative difficulties at UCSF have reached a critical point, many faculty members believe.

“The space problem is very real,” says one prominent faculty member. “There's the possibility of a morale crisis, so, suddenly, people are looking very closely at whether effective approaches are being used to solve the problem.”

Some departmental chairpersons believe that an outside review committee should be called on to evaluate non-academic administration regularly. Ramsay downplays the crisis element, however.

“Some of the faculty are fed up with the very high cost of construction [and other service problems], but I wouldn't put it more seriously than that,” he says.

Similarly, administrators and faculty members hold a range of views about whether the problem is structural, or one of inadequate personal performance. Some faculty members voiced strong reservations about the qualifications of a few key managers.

Ramsay sees the problem as basically a matter of organization and communication, however.

“It's very important that clear directions and operating instructions be given to the units,” he says. “I see [the problems] as much more in structure than in people.”

Derzon “tried to address issues in an institution that has grown very rapidly, with an infrastructure that has sometimes adapted well, sometimes not.”

Vice-chancellor for business and fiscal services Bruce Spaulding, who was hired in February to address the sorts of problems highlighted by the Derzon report, disagrees.

“I don't think organization is that critical it's not life or death,” he says. “We have some inappropriate configurations now. For example, I have under my jurisdiction two discrete computer departments,” leading to “a structural inefficiency that may create different standards and communications gaps.”

But in general, Spaulding adds, appropriate management techniques will help much more than reorganizing campus administration.

“Like any large organization, [personal performance] is a mixed bag,” Spaulding says.

But there are a number of ways to address inadequate performance, he emphasized, and no dismissals are currently being contemplated. In any case, better construction services, administrative streamlining, and more of a team attitude by the chancellor's service units are part of everyone's solution.

“I think people have a high regard for [Derzon] and anything he said will be taken seriously by the campus,” says Pharmacy School Dean Jere Goyan. “It doesn't mean we will follow every recommendation.”

Several administrators and faculty members expressed hope that Spaulding, who they consider an administrative expert, will help turn things around at UCSF. Formerly he was county administrator of Fresno County, and before that, county manger of Clark County, Nev., which includes Las Vegas.

In those jobs he oversaw major construction projects. Ramsay says that the Derzon report is being disseminated among campus managers, and that the faculty's input is also being sought.

“One of the chancellor's high priorities is that the service units work effectively and are cost effective,” he says.