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Business Officer Magazine

Time and Trust

Good relationships don't develop overnight-time and earned trust are required for the most effective partnerships. In the featured session, "Exploring Academic Administrative Opportunities," institution chief financial officers and chief academic officers shared tips for working together and learning to speak the same language. 

One indisputable truth about the financial crisis is that it brought to light the need to find new efficiencies on the academic side of the house, including the need to eliminate or downsize lower-priority activities, said Philip Hanlon, provost and executive vice president of academic affairs at the University of Michigan. In today's tough economic environment, provosts have to understand administrative priorities in the same way that CBOs must consider academic and program priorities.

Ron Drayton, vice president of academic affairs at Midlands Technical College, Columbia, South Carolina, has noticed an increasing sense of responsibility among his faculty to consider the bottom line. "More of our academic folks are working from a budgeting model and so they understand the value of teaching full classes," Drayton said. "They also understand that the institution is looking for real outcomes resulting from release time." Drayton attributed these small breakthroughs to a strong focus on collaboration between academic and administrative leaders.

Ronald Rhames, senior vice president for business affairs at Midlands, agreed. In addition to building trust, Rhames suggested that a commitment to ongoing communication is required to ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to identifying resources to fund priorities—whether academic or administrative. Identifying the terms
of the conversation is also important, noted Drayton. For instance, since chief academic officers want to discuss priorities in terms of the institution's strategic plan and its mission and service to students, chief business officers would do well to align comments about budgets and funding with those concerns, Drayton said.

The need to nurture relationships must take place not only between the CAO and CFO but down the line on both sides, Hanlon said. "The real conflict often exists at these other levels." Roger Stackpoole, vice president of finance and administration at Le Moyne College, Syracuse, New York, suggested CBOs get to know faculty and deans, not only their CAOs. "We have zero tolerance for 'we/they' dialogue," Stackpoole said. And a little sensitivity also goes a long way. "My provost helps me understand how to talk about issues like faculty workload and productivity," Stackpoole noted.

Finally, it helps if the relationship between top leaders is viewed as congenial and productive, added Cynthia Teniente-Matson, vice president of administration and CFO at California State University, Fresno. When a new provost arrived on her campus, she and the university's other vice presidents continued their tradition of regular breakfast meetings to discuss priorities and generate ideas. "This helps others on campus view us as a collaborative entity rather than as competing interests," noted Teniente-Matson.

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