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New Orleans and All That Jazz

Business officers gathered for the NACUBO 2007 Annual Meeting to learn from colleagues, share insights, and support a city.

By NACUBO staff and consultants: Connie Adamson, Mary Bachinger, Christina Daulton, Bill Dillon, Bobbie Dillon, Marta Perez Drake, Anne Gross, Nia Hightower, Lisa Jordan, Michele Madia, Sue Menditto, Gerry Romano, David Rupp, Carole Schweitzer, Jessica Shedd, Jeff Shields, and Maryann Terrana.

Under rainbow lights and a Big Easy backdrop ready to highlight local jazz and zydeco musicians, NACUBO President and CEO John Walda, welcomed NACUBO Annual Meeting participants to the July 28–31 event in New Orleans. He explained why their presence—1,412 registrants strong—in the Crescent City exemplified the conference theme: Crossroads: New Beginnings Built on Valued Traditions. “All of you,” he said, “are from institutions with rich traditions. And NACUBO is steeped in the heritage and community that characterize higher education in America. This year’s conference theme embraces inspiration and potential. Higher education institutions are helping to lead the rebirth of this city.” Referring to NACUBO’s community service project, Walda said, “I am proud to say that today we have helped the University of New Orleans in providing a beautiful landscape for its students.”

During the conference, attendees enjoyed a campus expo that mirrored the lively sections of New Orleans—with the bookstore anchoring the Garden District, poster sessions adding interest to the French Quarter, a learning space of the future headquartered in the Arts/Warehouse District, and one of several dining venues nestled in Jackson Square.

New to this year’s conference were first-time attendee welcoming breakfasts organized by constituent group, where business officers could connect with peers and ask questions of NACUBO staffers. Also a first were roundtables and forums that focused on topics ranging from athletics to tax, from minority issues to human resources.

Based on the interest generated from these self-selected groups, NACUBO has launched six listservers, allowing members to share ideas and comments online. The new member service will focus on these groups and topics: business officers new to higher education, system business officers, women’s issues, ethnic and minority issues, human resources, and athletics. The tool will allow the exchange of information, peer-to-peer, based on issues of importance within higher education business and financial management or particular roles within the campus business office. (To participate, visit www.nacubo.org and click on “Membership and Community” at the top of the page.)

New Beginnings Don’t Come Easily

Providing insight and perspective on a city in comeback mode, Soledad O’Brien took the stage in the same convention center from which she reported on Hurricane Katrina’s devastation more than two years ago. The CNN special correspondent recalled the thick air of desperation surrounding the nearly 50,000 storm victims huddled in the facility that held little air and no electricity, food, or hope.

Though many businesses in the tourist and cultural districts are back in operation and other buildings are repaired, reminders of the sodden city became noticeably vivid as O’Brien described her memories of the scene. During her weeks in New Orleans, she became friends with the sheriff of St. Bernard Parish, the city’s hardest hit area. It was his attitude that really struck O’Brien. He said, “How we behave today is how people will remember us.” And, the good news, said O’Brien, “was that people from everywhere began to help.” Despite local and federal officials who, recalled O’Brien, said, “‘We really didn’t know how bad it was’—and they did know,” in some communities, like Lake-view, “it’s a story of American ingenuity—you roll up your sleeves and do it yourself.”

After touching base with authorities when she arrived in the city for her NACUBO keynote address, O’Brien estimated that 20 percent of New Orleans is back. “The Riverwalk, the hotels, the convention center, and the French Quarter look great,” she said, “and I commend you for bringing your conference to New Orleans.”

O’Brien went on to say that an amazing amount of work still needs to be done. “People are moving back; there is progress. How does it look to you?” she asked the audience. “The other 80 percent of New Orleans—the [group of] residential districts—is struggling. I was talking with business people who are optimistic that youth and energy are coming back. At the same time, there is no hope in St. Bernard’s Parish where five people commit suicide every day. So, both are right.”

Sharing Setbacks and Solutions       

No one understands the rebuilding challenges more than New Orleans higher education leaders, some of whom shared their experiences during the featured session “Phoenix From the Ashes: Leading After Surviving Disaster.” After Hurricane Katrina flood waters retreated, the work really began for local colleges and universities hit hardest by the storm. Telling their stories of what it took to prepare for the storm—and what it continues to take to get their institutions back on track—were Marvalene Hughes, president, Dillard University; Timothy Ryan, chancellor, the University of New Orleans; and Willis Lott, president of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College’s Perkinston Campus.

Whether from flood or wind, all three institutions sustained substantial damage from the August 2005 storm. Lott said his bout with Hurricane George in 1998 had prepared him for Katrina’s impact. “You can’t run and hide,” he said. “You’ve got to provide leadership.”

For that reason, Lott said he gave his administrators two weeks from the date that  Katrina hit to report back to work. Twenty-five percent of his employees had lost their homes, and many were upset with his call. However, Lott said they understood his decision once they had spent days processing what they had lost and realized what it would take to rebuild their personal lives. “They were ready to come back,” he said.

Creating some semblance of normalcy was imperative. With no Web site, no electricity, hundreds of thousands of textbooks lost, and only 5 percent of his employees back, Lott knew he had major work to do.

Hughes and Ryan could relate. The challenges were huge: How do we repair damaged facilities? How do we get the students back? How long should I keep my staff on the payroll, since the school is not in operation?

Rebuilding campus communities and reconstructing facilities were top-priority tasks. “Every single building was flooded except the chapel,” said Hughes of her small, private university. With the campus inoperable, Hughes sought creative alternatives. As a result of her initiative, the Hilton New Orleans Riverside hotel (one of NACUBO’s conference hotels) became the base for campus operations until the grounds were ready for the Dillard community to return.

Meanwhile, the university made it clear that “if students came back, we would have a place for them to live,” Hughes said. When the response to that plea became overwhelming, the Hilton extended its support to include housing Dillard’s returning students. Additional support and funding from other institutions, particularly Princeton and Brown Universities, said Hughes, made restoring the Dillard community possible.  Dillard’s loss totaled $400 million, with only $110 million covered by insurance. “During this time I learned I could do so much more than I thought I could do,” Hughes said.

Though the University of New Orleans suffered less damage than Dillard, one third of its campus was flooded. Facilities were further damaged when the campus became an impromptu shelter to more than 2,000 people who made their way from other flooded parts of the city. “FEMA doesn’t pay for that damage,” said Ryan, “because we weren’t designated as a shelter.”

The electricity at UNO finally was restored in January 2006 and physical classes convened on October 10. To date, Ryan says, 75 percent of the pre-Katrina enrollment is back, and he expects 80 percent this fall. “Much of that [shortfall] is because the students are just gone. They’ve relocated,” he said. “And then you have some people who are afraid to come back to New Orleans.”

Ryan admits that crime rates and the fear of more hurricanes or broken levees come into play when trying to entice new recruits or regain part of the lost student population. He also notes, however, that there has been an increase in the number of international students attending UNO.

Enrollment at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College remains 15 percent below its pre-Katrina enrollment, but Lott said much of that is because most of the students are working and don’t have time to attend school. “We’re basically training people to rebuild the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” he said. “Everyone who graduates has three to four job offers.”

Rebuilding the campus community remains the top priority for all three leaders, but they also see it as a time to further build on what the campuses previously had to offer. Adding state-of-the-art labs and classrooms is one of the visions Hughes has for Dillard. “We’re coming back better and stronger.”

TECHNOLOGY That Transforms

Several sessions presented technology tools to bring more sophistication to the financial office and to the entire campus. 

Understanding the IT Mind
Many information technology projects fail. And, it’s not always because of IT problems but, rather, due to the failure of business and technology teams to work effectively together. With constantly changing technologies and the growing number of implementations, participants attending the session “Getting Along with Geeks” sought insight into how business professionals differ from information technology experts. Presenters Jerry Smith, office of information systems, Pittsburgh State University, and David Schmidt, director, computing and telecommunication center, Fort Hays State University, Hays, Kansas, used Paul Glen’s book Leading Geeks: How to Manage and Lead the People Who Deliver Technology as the session’s foundation. They added their campus experiences to shed light on how to manage the people and projects that deliver technology.

Different Strokes
Many major college and university IT projects require detailed interaction between IT workers (“geeks”) and university business and operations staff (“bean counters”). A very real partnership between technology and business can help shape successful projects. Yet, studies have shown that geeks and bean counters seem to think and act quite differently. Here are some examples.
Geeks typically:

  • Understand machines.
  • Believe that “I said it, therefore, I communicated it.”
  • Exhibit a problem–solution mind-set (which may lead them to offer premature solutions).
  • Demonstrate that judgment is swift and merciless.
  • Have a strong rebellious streak.
  • Feel loyalty to technology and the technology profession rather than to the organization.
  • Bean counters, on the other hand:
  • Like order.
  • Prefer predictability.
  • Find completing tasks a major motivator.
  • Demonstrate loyalty to the organization more than to the profession.
  • Think being verbal can equal success.
  • Are solution focused, therefore, don’t care how it works.

In a project environment, these differences lead to conflict—and conflict can lead to communication termination. Obviously, this kind of standoff can derail the project. But, understanding the differences can greatly facilitate effective communication within the team. 

Suggested Solutions
Reviewing this list of personality stereotypes can serve as an icebreaker for a seemingly insurmountable impasse. In addition, strong leadership optimally can establish a conflict-resolution environment. Such leadership is an art, said session presenters, and is not based on the traditional power and authority approach. Rather, effective leaders of business and IT teams:

  • Address, manage, and resolve conflicts.
  • Provide support when conflict arises.
  • Keep people productively working.
  • Foster the flow of information.
  • Cultivate creative idea generation.
  • Create forums where conflicting ideas can be discussed and debated.

TECHNOLOGY That Transforms

Tools to Improve By
A couple of conference sessions introduced new tools that aggregate data for processing and reporting improvements.

Internal collaboration for greater benefit. After a brief introduction to his session “Facilitating Cross-Departmental Collaboration for Retention: Technology As the Common Thread,” presenter John Brooks took a poll. “How many of you,” he asked, “are directly involved in retention? Let’s see a show of hands.” When few hands went up, he exclaimed, “Wrong answer. You’re all involved in retention!”

Brooks went on to explain the retention challenges at his university, Fayetteville State, which is part of the University of North Carolina System. Fayetteville State is a historically black institution with 6,300 students. Retention risk factors are high: The average SAT score is 856; 34 percent of the enrollment represents first-generation students; and 70 percent of the student body is eligible for Pell grants. By and large, says Brooks, his students arrive at school academically and culturally underprepared.
Year one retention is 71 percent and drops to 17 percent for 4-year graduates and 37 percent for 6-year graduates. Clearly the institution has faced an acute need to reach out to students, especially while they are still in year one. As a way to do that, university leaders made the decision to purchase a software tool called EMT Retain.

The system can upload relevant student data, such as contact information, grade point average, enrolled hours, department, major, and so forth. The software can then sort and filter data to target e-mail messages to particular populations, personalize the messages, and track to see who has opened the messages. Reminders then go to only students who have not opened and responded to the messages.

In the process of trying to increase student retention, administrators realized that the tool fostered cross-department collaboration. For example, all departments were able to employ the software to promote attendance to early orientation. Automated invitations and reminders prompted students in all study areas to register online by clicking a link in the e-mail message they were sent. This resulted in 40 percent more registrants for early orientation.

Other areas of collaboration and efficiency included:

  • Registration holds. In the past, the university had relied on students to be proactive about following up with their registration accounts. Now, the system automatically sends reminder messages to students as well as to their advisors. Brooks contends that this directly resulted in a 2 percent increase in first-time freshman retention from the fall to the spring semester.
  • Career advisement. This student service has improved since the departments can send out targeted advertisements for programs such as resume workshops, internships, and other career counseling benefits.
  • Departmental recruitment. Individual departments, such as the UNC Teacher Recruitment Plan, can benefit greatly from the tool’s ability to sort data. The dean of education can request lists of students with an education major, a possible education major, or an undeclared major. The department can then target these students and let them know about scholarships, recruitment fairs, and other events that may motivate them to become teachers.

Looking to peers for comparable tuition discounting practices. Interested in comparing your institution’s tuition discounting practices against a self-selected peer group? A promising new member benefit—the NACUBO Benchmarking Toolwas unveiled at a panel discussion. The product was developed by the Exeter Group and is powered by Cognos business intelligence software. In announcing the launch of the member service, Jessica Shedd, NACUBO’s director, research and policy analysis, noted, “We are moving from the NACUBO Benchmark Program model of the late 1990s to the online, dynamic, report-building system that allows you, as the user, to customize reports based on the unique peer group you’ve defined.”

The online tool’s initial application allows institutions that participated in the 2005 NACUBO Tuition Discounting Study to compare themselves to a user-defined peer group. Shedd said that NACUBO anticipates expanding the project later this fall to include the more than 700 institutions that participated in the 2006 NACUBO Tuition Discounting Study through the College Board’s Annual Survey of Colleges. Future plans include working with endowment management data from the NACUBO Endowment Study.

Mark Cullen, president of the Exeter Group, demonstrated to session participants the tool’s ease of use and its flexibility in creating peer groups with which to compare institutional data. Custom reports provide analysis capability while maintaining the necessary confidentiality associated with tuition discounting data. 

Joining Shedd and Cullen on the panel, Phil Doolittle, executive vice president and chief operations and planning officer, University of the Redlands, California, offered his firsthand experience with the benchmarking program. His staff members who did a pilot test agreed that the tool made it “easy to drill down into the data, provided lots of areas in which to generate reports, and included no dead ends in the product.” Doolittle added, “Business officers increasingly are looking for effective benchmarking tools in order to generate reports for external audiences, such as accreditation agencies, parents, and students.”

Planting Seeds of Service

To keep that “better and stronger” momentum going, meeting attendees were up early for a Saturday morning—on the buses by 7 a.m., dressed in brightly colored team shirts, and ready to go to the University of New Orleans. More than 125 business officers signed up to help in the restoration of one of the campuses devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

With support from its corporate partners—TIAA–CREF, American Campus Communities, and ARAMARK Higher Education—NACUBO had worked with the University of New Orleans to design a service project that would make a lasting difference for the campus. The plan: to help with grounds improvement and landscaping of the UNO Student Housing Project–North, the first post-Katrina residence hall in the area.

Joel Chatelain, vice chancellor of campus services, welcomed the group. “We are so pleased,” he said, “to have an organization as prestigious as NACUBO come to our campus for a project that will help us regain some of the beauty of the campus center.”

Business officers were given their assignments along with hats, gloves, and sunscreen. ARAMARK volunteers wheeled around carts of drinks and snacks to keep volunteers hydrated while they worked enthusiastically. Holes were dug quickly, plants were put into the ground, and mulch was spread with the speed of seasoned gardeners as teams planted more than 2,000 trees and bushes and mulched the area known as the student park. Johanna Schindler, UNO’s director of public relations, explained that the area had always been a place for peaceful reflection and for gatherings of students. And the students wanted that place back.

In fewer than 90 minutes, the teams were finishing, and members of the university staff looked on in amazement at the work that had been accomplished. “We are all Type-A personalities and needed to get the job done,” explained volunteer John Cuny of Centre College, Danville, Kentucky. And, with that, the teams of business officers brought back a bit of beauty and tranquility lost after the Katrina disaster. One of the student volunteers, Harris Lam, a junior math major at UNO, was most impressed. “This space was very ugly,” he observed, “and now it is great.”

Those taking part in the project felt a real sense of satisfaction and accomplishment from being able to help, while UNO gained back its student park and some new friends from NACUBO. “We signed up because we wanted to make a difference,” said NACUBO 2007 Annual Meeting Program Committee Chair George Herbst, vice president, business and finance and treasurer, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida.

 “Many thanks,” said John Walda, “go to those who worked so hard, to the sponsors for their support, and to the UNO staff and students who joined us that Saturday morning.”

Working for Good 

Several concurrent sessions highlighted initiatives institutions are taking to do better and to be better. Sometimes that means being a better community partner; other times it means raising a process to a loftier level.

Sustainability efforts to bind campus and community. Of the many sessions highlighting sustainability strategies and practices, “Integrating Sustainability and Town Gown Relationships at Emory University” demonstrated how institutions and community leaders can pair up on mutually beneficial projects. A leadership commitment to the triple bottom line of social, economic, and environmental benefits of sustainability efforts can produce a thriving and engaging campus and community partnership. A case in point, Emory University, Atlanta, and the Clifton Community Partnership are working cooperatively to focus on four areas of mutual development for the community and the campus:

1. Pedestrian-friendly communities. Provide safe, wide sidewalks, which might mean an alternative urban design.

2. Flexible housing. Create multiple housing options for employees and students, which focus on work–life balance.

3. Activity centers. Build a combination of local shops, restaurants, and other retail establishments.

4. Transportation. Provide choices, including shuttles, that are real alternatives to driving. 

In negotiating this mixed-use development project, Emory University encountered challenges that are not unfamiliar to other campuses. To demonstrate what institution leaders might be in for when participating in community zoning meetings, for example, session participants were given the chance to role-play and re-enact a typical zoning meeting for the Emory project—complete with the exaggerated personalities one might encounter. Willing NACUBO members volunteered to serve as county commissioner, university administration, developer, civic association representative, environmental purist, and even the “cat-lady,” who was convinced that the university was engaging in research on her missing pets.

In addition to being lighthearted and amusing, the mock meeting served to educate participants about Emory’s lessons learned from the community partnership and process.

  • Leaders are more effective when they avoid abstracts and discuss projects in terms of quality of life for everyone involved.
  • Tailored and individual outreach is critical to positive interaction.
  • Transparency of activity and frequent communication to all stakeholders go a long way in building consensus.
  • Just because a building is “green” doesn’t mean it will be welcomed with open arms.
  • Density is a fundamental principle of smart growth, and it may be a tough sell to neighbors.

From compliance to integrity.  At the University of Vermont, Burlington, leaders want to do more than merely comply with laws and regulations such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. They aspire to build an institutional culture based on ethics and integrity. In the session “Beyond Sarbanes-Oxley: Moving from a Culture of Compliance to a Culture of Integrity,” Charles Jefferis and Barbara Johnson, from the University of Vermont, involved session participants in puzzling through real-life examples of “right versus right.” It was the kind of exercise that the university’s leaders have been working through with the Institute of Global Ethics, UVM’s partner in its business ethics initiative.
The presenters posed ethical dilemmas, which campus administrators might very well face, using the institute’s established framework to analyze and resolve such conundrums. The group determined that most of the cases involved more than one type of dilemma, in which a “right” answer wasn’t apparent. Some of the conflicting choices included:

  • Truth versus loyalty—the choice between overall honesty, integrity and commitment; and personal promise-keeping or responsibility.
  • Individual versus community—the tension between us versus them, self versus others, or smaller group versus larger group.
  • Justice versus mercy—the conflict between fairness, equity, and even-handed application of rules; and compassion, empathy, and love.
  • Short-term versus long-term—the conflict between immediate needs or desires and future goals.

Participants identified whether proposed solutions relied on ends-based thinking (greatest good for the greatest number); rule-based thinking; or care-based thinking (the Golden Rule).

The exercise illustrated the manner in which UVM is developing a programmatic approach to business integrity across its campus. Jefferis and Johnson acknowledged that in today’s challenging ethical environment employees need to learn an ethical thought process and they require practical tools to help them analyze situations that arise. Choices are typically not so much about right versus wrong or focused on whistleblower situations; those are easy compared to the daily choices between competing “right” answers. UVM has designed its program as an ethical fitness seminar, so that employees can strengthen their ethical muscles while the university seeks to build a culture based on shared principles and values.

Multiple Uses for Geographic Technology

Regarding RISK MANAGEMENT

Vulnerability for everything from campus safety to financial shortfalls to higher education performance seemed top of mind for meeting attendees. Several sessions focused on ways to reduce such risks. 

Integration of Risk Management and Athletics
Athletic programs are often high-profile activities at colleges and universities and can involve significant risks, on and off the court or field. According to university and association officials, collaborations between athletics officers and risk managers can net significant value when it comes to risk reduction. In the presentation “Bridging the Gap: The Integration of Risk Management and Athletics,” business officers and risk managers provided their insights on the benefits, hurdles, and resources for integrating their respective activities.

Session presenters included Clayton Hamilton, business manager, the University of Colorado, Boulder; Gary Langsdale, university risk officer, Pennsylvania State University, Philadelphia; Keith Martin, managing director of finance and operations, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA); and Constance Neary, associate vice president of risk research, United Educators. The panel explained that while many of the risks associated with athletic programs have existed since the inception of college athletics, others are new. Because sports are in the spotlight, it makes athletics unique compared to other areas of campus vulnerability. For example, sports activities have a history of large claims. Presenters said that collaboration across several associations—the University Risk Management and Insurance Association (URMIA), United Educators, and the NCAA—could help mitigate these significant liabilities by encouraging risk managers and athletic administrators to communicate effectively.

The panel cited a survey conducted by the College Athletic Business Management Association, which revealed that athletic business officers worry most about risk associated with student transportation, athletic injuries, and event management. All of these are topics addressed in resources available through United Educators, URMIA, and the NCAA. Through collaboration, the resources indicate, campuses could improve mitigation strategies, increase safety for athletes and fans, and reduce liability exposure and costs. Presenters also said that institutions might first try stepping back to assess their athletic risk while getting athletic departments and risk managers to have conversations early, when things are calm. They also heeded that one size does not fit all in matters of risk in athletics. Institutions need to look for a structure that promotes collaboration between appropriate campus officials within their organizational structures.

That said, challenges to collaborative efforts can stand in the way of progress. Typical problems include organizational structure, staff continuity and other difficulties in athletic offices, and communication across the different campus constituencies. Most importantly, the lack of understanding of the risk management process remains an issue between those managing sports programs and those responsible for risk mitigation. The presenters admitted that much education is needed in this area.

Geographic information software is making its way into nonacademic and business settings within higher education. In an effort to prove how the technology can be beneficial on campuses, the “GIS Applications for College and University Operations” session provided a variety of uses for higher education offices. According to Linda Peters, senior account executive for software developer ESRI, those departments might include marketing, facilities or physical plant operations, campus security, and enrollment management. “You can use the software,” said Peters, “to map the areas from which your student populations come and find out which areas are lacking. From a marketing standpoint, [that allows] you to point out which areas may need more marketing efforts for recruitment purposes.”

At least six institutions are using the geographic application in various ways. The University of Oregon, Eugene, employs the software for campus mapping, as does Trinity University, San Antonio. Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts, surveys campus safety measures, while Middlebury College, Vermont, determined from what areas their students were commuting.

Other higher education uses for the geographic software include real-estate management, emergency preparedness, asset management, virtual tours, and sustainable resource management.

Persistent Pursuit Pays Off

If attendees were in need of a shot of inspiration, Christopher Gardner’s keynote address, based on his autobiography, The Pursuit of Happyness, was just the story they needed to hear.

His book spent 25 weeks on The New York Times Best Sellers list, has been translated into eight languages, and was made into a film that grossed $350 million. So, for Christopher Gardner, life must be good, right?

Yes. But, rewind to the early 1980s, and you’ll find that the present-day entrepreneur and CEO of Christopher Gardner International Holdings was hardly prosperous. In fact, Gardner even spent some time as a homeless person. It was his persistence—and commitment to being there for his son—that turned his life around. 

Gardner explained that during the early ’80s, he went to San Francisco to take a job as a medical supply salesman. It was about that time that he reached a turning point. He met a man driving a red Ferrari. Garnder recalled, “He was looking for a parking space. I said, ‘You can have mine, but I’ve got to ask you two questions.’ The two questions were: What do you do? And how do you do that? Turns out this guy was a stockbroker, and he was making $80,000 a month.”

Regarding RISK MANAGEMENT

Getting Lawyers and Business Officers on the Same Page
General counsels and business officers often make common mistakes in their interactions—errors that can lead to legal and financial risks. In “Getting Your General Counsel to ‘Yes’,” a legal panel explored ways to strengthen the business office’s relationship with the campus legal department. Panelists identified issues to raise early and candidly in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

Presenters included Kathleen Santora, chief executive officer, National Association of College and University Attorneys; Pam Bernard, vice president and general counsel, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina; and David Williams, vice chancellor for university affairs and general counsel, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee.

Common mistakes of the general counsel. Panelists pointed out ineffective or detrimental characteristics that can make for problematic relations with the business office:

  • Talking rather than listening. The fact that lawyers are trained to come in and fix things can lead them to give prompt advice rather than to listen and gain an understanding of common goals.
  • Making up his or her mind in advance. The better approach is often to help the business officer spot issues and consider options.
  • Repeating to others what the business officer has said.
  • Embarrassing the business officer in front of others
  • Telling the business officer “what you need to do.”
  • Offering advice on non-legal matters without being sensitive to the weight of their words. (Lawyers need to be careful to distinguish between business and legal advice.)
  • Not making time for preventive law.

Common mistakes of the business officer. Similarly, the business office does its share of miscommunication with the general counsel:

  • Failing to tell counsel about major issues early enough be helpful.
  • Telling counsel only half of the story.
  • Insisting that your counsel be only a legal technician.
  • mbarrassing your counsel in front of others.
  • Using counsel as a scapegoat.
  • Believing that your staff doesn’t need legal training.

Progress in Pulling Together
Fortunately, reported the panel, the trend is for campus counsel to reach out and alert business officers about issues that may affect decisions and operations. Since general counsel and CFO have vested interests in areas involving legal and financial risk, close collaboration is key. Areas of particular mutual interest include the hiring and firing of high-level employees, including tenured faculty; major projects, such as bond deals; and institutional audits. A growing area for collaboration is the management of conflicts of interest. Panelists encouraged the audience to consider forming a committee or a group to review disclosures made on annual questionnaires—and urged that such disclosures be meaningful and understandable.

The encounter gave Gardner a clear career goal. He began knocking on doors and applying for training programs at brokerages, even though it meant he would have to live on next to nothing while he learned. Finally accepted into a program, he left his job in medical sales. But his plans collapsed when the man who offered him the training slot was fired. Gardner had no job to go back to; and, if that weren’t bad enough, he was jailed for $1,200 in overdue parking violations and his son’s mother left. Despite his circumstances, Gardner fought to keep his child. “I didn’t meet my father until I was 28,” he said. “I always said that I would be there for my children and that no one would be able to treat my children like that.”

After much persistence, Gardner managed to enter the training program at Dean Witter, where his meager stipend didn’t even cover housing. His coworkers never knew that Gardner spent his evenings trying to arrange day care, find food, and locate a safe place to sleep.

Time was of the essence during those days, he recalled. “If I was late leaving work, that meant I was late picking up Chris from day care. If I was late picking him up from day care, that meant we might miss having a place to sleep,” he said. This was the routine until the training program ended and Gardner passed his licensing exam to become a stockbroker.

Along a hard and bumpy road, Gardner eventually found wealth; but, he’s quick to say that his tenacity was fueled by a lot more than money: “I wanted my son to say ‘every time I looked up, my dad was there.’”

NACUBO Bestsellers

Members shopped ‘til they dropped at the campus bookstore and cybercafe, scooping up copies of The Pursuit of Happyness, by Christopher Gardner, and of Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by closing session keynoters Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner.
In addition, shoppers stocked up on the latest NACUBO publications. The top sellers reflect current concerns on campus:

  1. Student-Centered Financial Services: Innovations That Succeed, edited by Nancy Sinsabaugh
  2. What Leaders Need to Know and Do, by Brent D. Ruben
  3. Strategic Planning in Higher Education, by Brent D. Ruben
  4. College and University Budgeting, by Larry Goldstein
  5. Essentials of College and University Accounting

Focused Forums

New to the conference program were forums allowing attendees to engage with peers who perform similar functions or who share other common ground.
Business officers new to higher education took advantage of their time together by discussing their experiences in transitioning to business and financial management within a college and university environment. The interactive session, held in the “Learning Space of the Future,” was facilitated by a member of NACUBO’s Research Universities Council, Deb Moon, vice president of finance and chief financial officer, Carnegie Mellon University.  During the session, approximately 30 business officers discussed common challenges they face, including managing the shared governance model for decision-making on campus, acquiring technology to support an aging infrastructure, and managing long-tenured staff. 

Meanwhile, in the Women’s Forum, participants talked about a wide range of topics and challenges. Facilitated by K. Sue Redman, senior vice president and chief financial officer, Texas A&M University, the session generated top-of-mind issues that included:

  • Techniques for more effective meeting participation. Suggestions ranged from using the right tone in making comments to having a prepared summary statement that gives you the final word in a discussion.
  • Ways to build important relationships. Actively seeking a mentor as well as soliciting others’ ideas—particularly thoughts that challenge what is being put forward—were considered good strategies.  
  • Sources for training and development. Participants noted that useful areas for development would be executive presentation skills and leadership strategies and techniques.

A Reality Check

“The Spellings Commission: The Report and Its Implications” sparked lively conversation among annual meeting attendees and panel members. Different perspectives were brought to the panel by Doug Lederman, editor, Inside Higher Ed; Brent Ruben, executive director, Center for Organizational Development and Leadership, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey; and Vicky Schray, deputy director, management and planning, U.S. Department of Education (who joined the panel via phone link). Jane Wellman, executive director, Delta Project on Postsecondary Costs, moderated the session.

In his opening comments, Ruben characterized the tone of responses to the Spellings Commission report “A Test of Leadership” as “if not alarm, deep concern.” Lederman offered that the report has been so controversial because it is so significant— “because it builds on past groundwork, recognizing great concern.”

While reactions to the report have been varied, Schray cited broad agreement about lack of accountability and the need for improvement. Others emphasized a paradigm shift for higher education—institutions have been challenged to tackle the goal of being more responsible for student success, “for value provided.”  It may not be enough to teach; institutions must show that learning is taking place.

Familiar challenges facing higher education were reflected in the report—accessibility, quality, affordability, increased rigor, and greater alignment with secondary education.  Some on the panel felt the report failed to note “the virtues” of the country’s higher education system.

Lederman pointed out that we do not have a system, but rather “a bunch of institutions. In the ‘nonsystem’ of higher education, getting national movement toward national priorities is not easy.” He posed the questions: “Who leads?” and “Has that model come to the point where it’s not as effective as it was?”

The question “What should be the role of the federal government?” brought interesting insights. Panel members noted that for the federal government to move into a policy role represents a change, while Schray said the government “gives voice to students and families.” But there was little disagreement that opening a public national dialogue may bring positive results.

The panel closed the discussion by recognizing that, although the tone of the report may be negative and critical, it has added momentum to finding ways to engage in positive change.

Traditional Classroom Morphs to Millennials’ Expectations

The Campus Expo

The exhibit hall featured the products and services of 207 companies involved in industries as varied as facilities management, technology, architecture, accounting, finance, campus housing, bookstores, and food services. The NACUBO Bookstore sponsored by Follett Higher Education Group offered current bestsellers, DVDs, and casual clothing from local universities. Datatel supplied the cybercafe, so that attendees could go online to check messages and stay in touch with home and office. Each day huge crowds gathered at the booth of SunGard Higher Education for the chance to win a gift at the official prize drawing. The Relaxation Station featured executive massages, sponsored by the Bank of America.

Corporate Showcases Add to Learning. Lunch on Tuesday was served with a side dish of information. Nine firms offered Corporate Showcases on a variety of topics, such as facilities, technology, housing, and finance. Attendees had their choice of presentations from ABM Janitorial Services, Allen & O’Hara, Blackboard,
EthicsPoint, Grant Thornton LLP, Pyramis Global Advisors, SAP, Sodexho Education, and SunGard Higher Education.

Surrounded by whiteboards, digital imaging, and multiple seating areas for lectures and small-group exercises, Steelcase, Inc., representatives showcased the classroom that they think the millennial generation expects.

First introduced last fall at Grand Valley State University, Allendale, Michigan, the prototype classroom encouraged students and instructors to remain engaged during the learning process, reducing segues and preserving the cognitive flow of the lesson plan. Rob Frans, an adjunct faculty member in the Grand Valley State School of Communication, says this really is a classroom with no bad seats since its configuration has no front or back. A mini-microphone allows the instructor to walk freely around the classroom while giving a lecture or presentation. “So, before,” said Frans, “a student may have been looking at his Facebook page on his laptop in the back of the classroom; the chances of that happening now are a lot less likely.”

Switching from lecture format to small-group sessions is made easy with multiple workstations, each complete with its own separate whiteboard for taking notes. The not-so-traditional classroom also provides the ability to take digital snapshots of notes written on each whiteboard. Students have the option of printing out the snapshots or having them sent directly to their e-mail.

Although the high-tech classroom includes many benefits, Frans said that it’s not quite equipped to handle classroom sizes of 200–300 people.

Applying the Balanced Scorecard

If you’ve heard of the balanced scorecard but don’t know much more about it, you’re not alone. A packed room of curious business officers attended the session “Applying the Balanced Scorecard in Higher Education.” Presenters Sandra Lier, former associate vice president of business services, and Ruth Johnston, senior associate treasurer, student fiscal services and financial management quality improvement, University of Washington, Seattle, explained their several-year experience with applying the balanced scorecard to their respective departments. In polling the room, they identified only a handful of attendees who had worked with the system, which was developed by Harvard Business School professor Robert Kaplan and business management consultant David Norton and explored in their 1996 book The Balanced Scorecard: Translating Strategy Into Action.

The presenters cautioned that those interested in considering the scorecard must be aware that its adoption and implementation constitute a “big program that requires commitment and resources; you need to look at a 3- to 5-year window before you’ll see results.” And, says Johnston, “If you don’t have that, it will be difficult to make this work.”

Lier led off the session, explaining that her administrative area and Johnston’s financial management department chose the scorecard approach as “one way of framing performance outcomes we are trying to achieve.” Having embarked on the long-range process in 2002, Lier outlined the scorecard’s strategy structure, which includes the focus area (in this case, financial or business services), customer, infrastructure, and people. Identifying the outcomes that the institution desires for each area, a strategy map is created, which concisely explains how processes need to be modified and measured to produce the identified outcomes. (See the university’s Web site at www.washington.edu/admin/business/balanced_scorecard/index.html for examples of strategy maps.)

Johnston has been pleased with the balanced scorecard approach, “because it balances your measures to make sure that you include all the factors that are important to outcomes.” For example, she said, “if you provide great customer service without using effective financial processes, you won’t reach your performance goals.”

As with many management strategies, the balance scorecard is people-intensive. Getting senior leadership on board is critical to obtain the necessary resources and ongoing support for such a long-term commitment. Lier and Johnston also admitted that establishing metrics can be particularly troublesome to communicate to staff. “People are uncomfortable,” said Johnston, “with the idea that how quickly and accurately they process accounts payable will be compared with someone else’s speed and quality of work.” Consequently, communication is a critical element of the process. Otherwise, underscored Lier, “you’ll have a lot of resentment, which can be the basis for failure.”

Lier and Johnston agreed that, while the process has been time consuming and requires ongoing oversight and monitoring, it has been well worth it. Both departments have experienced a number of positive outcomes—apart from their identified objectives:

  • Ongoing information and data in the form of quarterly reports that inform decision making.
  • Better alignment of staff with the identified goals and objectives.
  • A change in the institutional culture that has made the institution more intentional about its work.
Student Loan Controversy Takes Center Stage

An open forum for discussing recent scrutiny of student loan practices, NACUBO’s town hall meeting attracted a crowd. Morgan Olsen, executive vice president, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, and former NACUBO Board Chair, opened the interactive session by summarizing the origins of the student loan controversy and the impact on student lending at colleges and universities.

Olsen reminded the audience that the loan issue had heated up last spring. New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo singled out a number of institutions, indicating that they were engaging in “deceptive practices” with student loan providers. The main practices that were questioned were:

  • perceived “kickbacks” from lenders to institutions based on the amount of loans processed (i.e., revenue sharing agreements or referral fees);
  • benefits provided to the institution by lenders that were selected by the institution as  “preferred” lenders; and
  • a lack of disclosure to potential borrowers regarding preferred lender agreements.

Sharing firsthand experiences were Thomas Elzey, senior vice president, CFO, and treasurer, Drexel University, Philadelphia, and Clay Steadman, general counsel, Clemson University, South Carolina. The two explained how their respective institutions dealt with the investigations by the attorney general’s office. While Drexel settled in the case and Clemson did not, Elzey and Steadman expressed their mutual assessment that, overall, the student loan investigations unfairly targeted higher education institutions, many of which were doing nothing wrong.   

The Drexel Experience
Elzey went on to relate the story of Drexel’s very public conflict with Cuomo’s office.  Drexel had entered into an agreement with a preferred lender through a competitive bidding process. The final arrangement provided the institution with significant annual revenue based on a share of borrowed private loans—a fact disclosed to borrowers.  According to Elzey, the funds were used to provide grants to students with unmet need. Therefore, Elzey remarked, “We didn’t think we were doing anything wrong, as we were directing all those resources back to students; it was a “win-win” situation.” For that reason, Drexel’s president initially indicated that Drexel would not settle with the attorney general’s office. However, as things progressed and the investigation mounted against several other higher education institutions, the university reversed its decision. It settled, agreeing to the attorney general’s requirements, which included paying a substantial, undisclosed monetary settlement. “When all was said and done, we didn’t want to see the name Drexel University dragged through the mud,” said Elzey. 

The Clemson Decision
Clay Steadman was also contacted by Cuomo’s office and was urged to sign an agreement within 48 hours to halt a revenue sharing agreement (similar to Drexel’s) with its loan provider. Steadman refused, as he questioned why the state of New York had jurisdiction in South Carolina and was troubled by use of the word “kickbacks.” He was also concerned that the agreement was in draft format, which Cuomo’s office admitted “might be changed.”  In response, Clemson decided to contact the South Carolina Attorney General’s office to request that it conduct an independent investigation of Clemson’s relationship with its lending partner. Clemson assisted in the inquiry. The independent legal agency found no violations and determined that there was no wrongdoing. Cuomo’s office then relayed that, in light of the results of this independent investigation, the institution was “no longer an active target of our investigation.” 

Implications for Others
What does this mean for the future of student lending? An audience participant reminded attendees that although “a few bad apples did spoil the bunch, it is important to remember that some of us out there lost our moral compasses.” Further, the commentor added, “It’s important to make sure that all of our respective houses are in order.” 

With that, Morgan Olsen offered the following guidelines for campuses:

  • Assure parents and students of the transparency and full disclosure of all aspects of your student loan operations.
  • Make sure that all employees are aware of your procurement and vendor relationship policies.
  • If you continue with a preferred lender list, use a formal selection process with appropriate criteria and identify a broad committee to review proposals.
  • Post to your financial aid Web site information that discloses your student loan partners and what their relationship to the institution means to students.
  • Require all employees to file conflict-of-interest disclosure forms.
  • To protect the individual and the office, do not leave the final decision on preferred lender selection solely within the financial aid office.
  • Once Congress completes its work, ensure that your campus is in compliance with any new provisions.

Assessing Faculty Productivity

Many a business officer has had discussions with academic departments and faculty members about budget allocations for particular programs and for faculty recruitment and retention efforts. At research universities, faculty salaries are often split between teaching and scholarship. So, when evaluating faculty members on both competencies, there are ways to adequately assess faculty performance within the classroom.

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Unfortunately, determining a faculty member’s productivity and value relative to his or her peers and effectively evaluating the success of an academic discipline compared to those at peer institutions can be difficult. Oftentimes, this information is based on subjective data, such as comments from peers or colleagues or from national ranking sources.

Dr. Lawrence Martin, dean of the graduate school at SUNY–Stony Brook, was struck by the limited metrics available for providing valid comparisons on the performance of faculty and disciplines at his institution. In his presentation, “Benchmarking Excellence: Assessing Faculty Productivity and Scholarly ROI,” Martin explained how he developed metrics based on work from the National Academies’ National Research Council, which regularly ranks institutions based on data collected by and submitted to the council.

By developing an annual, unit-record database on every faculty member associated with NACUBO member institutions, Martin can evaluate faculty productivity using measures of the number of publications, citations, research grants, and honors attributed to a particular faculty member per year. Consequently, he can catalog the activity of Ph.D. programs and disciplines. Creating such a data warehouse allows for comparisons of faculty member data within an institution’s department or at completely different universities. With the data, university administrators can get reliable numbers on whether an academic discipline or a faculty member meets the institutional standard and can determine improvement from year to year.

Having this data can be extremely helpful when making difficult decisions, said Martin, such as whether or not to cut a particular faculty line or academic program. Martin highlighted one example of gauging productivity at Stony Brook. The astronomy department ranked very low on a national scale in terms of productivity; however, collected data eventually showed that the lower level of productivity was due to the department’s size compared to that of departments at peer institutions. In fact, further research revealed that the faculty was more productive than its counterparts. So, rather than cutting the astronomy department, the university decided to keep the faculty but have it merge with another discipline.

As Martin noted, “Reputations are based on quality, but quality may also exist where reputations have not been made.” In the case of the astronomy department, it was clear that the quality was there, it just needed to be evaluated appropriately.

Community Colleges Assess Common Challenges

About 40 administrators gathered to discuss solutions for common challenges facing their community colleges. Budget cuts, alternative revenue sources, campus security measures, and a number of other issues rose to the top of the list of priorities needing extra attention on campus. With Larry Goldstein, CPA, president of Campus Strategies, facilitating, participants formed small teams to identify answers for the trials that would most likely benefit from group discussion. 

With the continuous need for institutions to procure various sources of funding, the group focused on alternative resources for capital. Participants got creative with their suggestions, pointing to the rental of campus parking lots and facilities for flea markets or other weekend activities, public-private partnerships, vending and food service commissions, and discounts for all possible purchases. Drexel University’s approach to alternative funding drew interest from participants. Aside from serving about 20,000 students, the large Philadelphia institution acts as an information technology provider for several small institutions in the area.

In addition to money matters, community college representatives listed campus security as a growing concern. In the wake of the Virginia Tech tragedy, many administrators have been exploring various security measures that effectively alert the campus community. One potential solution lies with voice over Internet protocol (VOIP) technology, which allows voice signals over the Internet to reach a wide population in times of emergency. Another alert mechanism can be activated via fire alarm systems. Participants also discussed the importance of having a procedure in place to lock down campuses and working with general counsel to handle physical and cyber stalking issues.

A Turnaround 10 Years in the Making

Just because something always has been done one way, doesn’t make it a tradition worth maintaining, cautioned a panel from Saint Xavier University, Chicago. The session “From High Touch to High Impact: One University’s Turnaround Story” closely tracked the institution’s decade-long progress. The turnaround, driven by a strategic planning process and the introduction of data-driven decision making, was discussed from several different angles.

Teamwork and dedication to the mission of the small, urban, Roman Catholic university were clearly evidenced by Susan Prios, vice president for business and finance; Kathleen Carlson, vice president for research and planning; and Beth Gierach, assistant provost, enrollment services. Consultant John Dysart rounded out the panel.
In 1997, Saint Xavier faced declining undergraduate enrollments, a student-faculty ratio of 10 to 1, below-average tuition and discount rate, and a backlog of infrastructure needs. The university embarked on a strategic planning process that included defined objectives: increasing operating revenue, attracting more students, and improving efficiency. What was most important? The roomful of business officers already knew—raising the student-faculty ratio through enrollment growth.

A sampling of some of the strategies and tactics the panelists credited with the success of Saint Xavier’s turnaround include:

  • Creation of an outgoing call center, primarily used as a recruitment tool.
  • A letter from Chicago Mayor Richard Daley extolling Saint Xavier, which was mailed to prospective students.
  • An integrated administrative computing system that allowed careful tracking of data on recruitment and efficiency efforts.
  • A culture of collaborative, data-driven decision making with regular communication and meetings among staff and vice presidents.
  • A new front-loaded scholarship program and increased efficiency in awarding financial aid.

In 2003, the initiative was showing enough success to engender a new round of strategic planning, with the process guided by the vision of the president and grounded in the university’s mission, heritage, and core values. By 2006, Saint Xavier’s undergraduate enrollment had grown, the new students were more able academically, and operating revenue was trending upward.

Enrollment Management Models

Enrollment management once may have been about taking only the best. But presidents and chief financial officers are increasingly requiring enrollment management decisions to be data-informed and goal-oriented. Such a model can lead to optimum class size and diversity, with maximum revenue generation.

Robin Mamlet, senior consultant and lead for enrollment practice at Witt/Kieffer, and Victoria LaFore, vice president of consulting services at Noel-Levitz, set the stage for a session on institutional approaches to enrollment management. According to LaFore, enrollment officers have evolved into gatekeepers, counselors, recruiters, marketers, enrollment managers, and fiscal leaders. Enrollment vice presidents James Nondorf and Bill Elliot agreed that the job is complex. The two also shared their effective approaches to managing enrollment at their institutions.

See You in Chicago
Mark your calendar for NACUBO’s 2008 annual meeting, July 12-15, in Chicago. Check www.nacubo.org and future issues of Business Officer for details and updates.

Nondorf, who operates a relatively young program at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York, was able to increase applications by 48 percent, boost selectivity by 18 points, set records in the number of enrolled women, reduce the discount rate by six points, and increase net revenue in the millions. How? Nondorf credits Rensselaer’s achievements, in large part, to having integrated financial aid and admissions divisions under one dean or vice president. In addition, he embraces pilot initiatives, understands what he calls the “business” of admissions, and holds regular meetings with the president and with the finance division.

Elliot, who has worked for decades at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, shared his approach to a now fully mature program. He credits its effectiveness to creating a meaningful exchange process between various offices on campus, hiring good people while giving them more responsibility than they want, having monthly staff meetings in which he shares all he knows, and looking for new ways to do old jobs. Elliot views his job as that of an “opportunity broker” for students. “Retention starts with good admissions,” he said.