Consultants assess SLU budget


Steering committee ensures collaboration

On Feb. 10, President Fred Pestello sent an email to faculty and staff announcing a new initiative called the Magis Operational Excellence Program that aims to identify opportunities for cost savings as well address the university’s budget challenges in a more effective way.

For this projected multi-year project, Pestello has convened an 18-member Steering Committee that will work in tandem with Bain & Company, a private consulting firm that has worked with other universities in similar financial straits and maintains a reputation as a collaborative and non-intimidating organization. Bain will advise the committee on areas within the university that could be working more efficiently and effectively.

As previously reported in The University News, earlier in the fiscal year SLU had faced a potential budgetary shortfall of $8.5 million, causing the university to make short-term changes in order to balance the budget. These changes included increased endowment spending, general spending cuts and a position-review process.

“For the past several years, costs have risen while revenues remained flat, an unsustainable trend that — if left unchecked — will lead to future shortfalls,” Pestello said. In order to make sure the FY17 budget is balanced, Pestello has engaged the 100-member President’s Advisory Council to come up with solutions. However, the university acknowledged its inability to continue with only short-term solutions and started thinking long-term, prompting the Magis Program.

“If we aspire to be the kind of innovative and entrepreneurial institution envisioned in our strategic plan, we cannot continue to deal with our budget challenges one year at a time,” Pestello said in his email to faculty and staff. “That is why we are beginning with an in-depth, comprehensive operational opportunity assessment that will involve every division and academic unit of the University, including SLU Madrid and select administrative components of SLUCare.”

According to Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, David Heimburger, one of the Co-chairs for the committee, along with Provost Nancy Brickhouse, the only exclusion at this time will be the clinical side of SLUCare—which can be revisited at any time.

“I think any of these areas in between are really wide open for improvement,” said Heimburger. “And really that’s the goal: to really improve [the university.]”

That will be the job of Bain and the Steering Committee: to improve how the university functions.

Outlined in Pestello’s email, both parties will review the existing practices, establish and sustain fiscally positive operations and align SLU’s systems with best practices for higher education, particularly among peer and aspirant institutions.

Heimburger emphasized that this is the university’s project, not Bain’s project. Bain will spend a four-month period analyzing data and will bring it back to the university to make recommendations to the Steering Committee, who will then vet those recommendations.

“They’re not really there to make decisions, they’re really more there to just talk about and determine the impact of what a recommendation might be,” said Heimburger.

“In the end, that Steering Committee will guide what Provost Brickhouse and I will do in terms of recommending to the president, Dr. Pestello.”

Pestello will then be the one to make the decisions based off the recommendations.

The university will then begin the second part of the process, which is implementing the changes proposed by Bain and discussed by the Steering Committee.

Even when Bain completes their assignment at SLU, the university will continue implementing changes – a process Heimburger said could take up to three years.

Since the process is only just beginning, the university does not yet know what changes will be made in what departments.

“I don’t go into this with any preconceived ideas of what’s going to happen here,” said Heimburger.

“I think everything we do should focus around students and patients. I think that if it’s something that’s going to affect student success or satisfaction with the university, we would seriously consider not doing it.”

Heimburger expressed that there isn’t necessarily an end in sight for the process: there is no numerical value or date set for the end of the project.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily a number, so once we achieve X savings, we’re at the end…I don’t think that’s it,” Heimburger said. “I think that once we’ve satisfied that we’ve looked at all of the areas across the university … once we’re satisfied that we are running as efficient as we can be, then I think the project will be done. I don’t think we’ll ever be done trying to get better.”

There will be introductory town hall meeting from 9:00 to 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 23, in the St. Louis Room of the Busch Student Center so that all members of the SLU community can participate in this process and voice their ideas on how the committee and the administration can make SLU better.

Pestello and Heimburger both emphasized that this process was not necessarily about cutting costs or making financial gain, but more about improving the university and its processes.

“You might get some savings out of those areas when you look at it, the cost savings, but you might not, but you will improve the way the university operates,” said Heimburger. “I know folks are really nervous about this but when we come out of this we should be a better organization because of it.”

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