Ken Hare In Depth: Shakeup of top-heavy ASU administration overdue

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Complete the following multiple choice question: When AlabamaState University President Gwendolyn Boyd introduced a new organizational chartto trustees last week, was she trying to: A. Get rid of deadwood andproblem-makers among top administrators? B. Improve efficiency in themanagement structure? C. Reduce salary costs?  D. Open up top slots forpeople whom Boyd would like to hire?

Or perhaps the best answer would be "all of the above."

One thing is obvious to anyone who even casually glances at the oldorganizational chart for ASU: The management structure there was top heavy,with far too many vice presidents and associate vice presidents and provoststhan necessary or good for a university of ASU's size.

Consider this: Auburn University, with an enrollment of almost25,000 students, has an organizational chart listing about 40 positions,including six vice presidents and another six assistant or associate vicepresidents.

Alabama State University, with an enrollment of about 6,000students, lists about 90 positions on its organization chart, including eightvice presidents and six associate or assistant vice presidents.

The chart presented last week by Boyd lists just 29 positions,with five vice presidents and a chief of staff.

A caveat to readers: Comparing organization charts can be tricky.The same title may mean different things in different organizations. And it isnot uncommon for an ad hoc management structure to develop within anorganization that has little to do with the lines of authority on the officialchart.

While not being specific, Boyd told WSFA reporter Jennifer Oravetthat her proposed changes were in part a response to ASU's bond rating beinglowered. Part of the reason for that rating change is that the university facessome serious financial challenges, so saving money could be a significantfactor in Boyd's proposal.

But Boyd also said it was uncertain just how many jobs would becut in her proposed reorganization.

I don't want to appear harsh, but Alabama taxpayers should hope thatthere are significant reductions in jobs among top administrators at ASU.

Changing lines of authority on an organization chart and takingthe title of vice president away from some administrators could improveefficiency. Having the remaining vice presidents report to her as president,not to an executive vice president, should help Boyd cement her authority andmake it clear that she is in charge.

But title changes and moving lines of authority won't savemoney if all those officials remain on the payroll; eliminating positions will.

One person whom it appears definitely will be leaving ASU isExecutive Vice President John Knight, whose position was eliminated in Boyd'snew chart. But Knight had long ago suggested that he would likely would beretiring. Knight, who is also a veteran legislator, will be among those membersof the Legislature who will be forced by a new law against "double-dipping"to decide after the November election between serving in the Legislature orholding a state job. Knight told me some time ago that he was leaning towardretiring from ASU.

Knight was gracious in his public comments following theannouncement that his post was being eliminated, saying that the university wasin good hands and that he would continue to support ASU.

Last week Boyd reported her proposed changes during committeemeetings of ASU's board of trustees. It will be interesting to see how the fullboard reacts to her proposals when it meets. If the board balks at her changes,it could be an early warning sign of tension between the board and the newpresident. But my guess is that the board -- at least publicly -- willacquiesce.

There are lots of reasons to reorganize the administrativehierarchy of ASU: Done right, it can save money, increase efficiency andimprove accountability. Perhaps most importantly, it can make it clear that thenew president is in charge and not just a figurehead.

Of course, only after names are plugged into all of those spots onthe new organizational chart will the taxpaying public and the ASU faculty,staff and students be able to judge whether Boyd has done it the right way.

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Ken Hare was a longtime Alabama newspaper editorial writer andeditorial page editor who now writes a regular column for WSFA's web site.Email him at khare@wsfa.com.

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