Bloomington Professional Council

Statement on Indiana University Benchmarking Study


At the August 19, 2010, Board of Trustees meeting, Indiana University announced that it would be conducting a Cost Benchmarking for Best Practices project, which would look at duties related to Human Resources, Payroll, Marketing and Communications, and Student Service Activities.  According to the project’s web site, “the benchmarking project is intended to provide IU with objective metrics on efficiency, effectiveness, and cost containment. This process will enable IU to evaluate its operational processes, establish standardization in service delivery, and facilitate identification and prioritization of improvement initiatives. This process will also allow IU to objectively evaluate its operations relative to our peers and other world-class organizations”.


The Bloomington Professional Council both agrees that this benchmarking initiative, if executed with reliable data, may indeed bring to light areas of potential cost savings and acknowledges that the functions reviewed are an important part of the university’s strategic planning and operational decisions. However, we have serious concerns about the study.


Questions that are unclear and open to interpretation

A number of those involved in the study have expressed frustration at the ambiguity of several questions that it features.  Each unit was left to decide upon its interpretation how to respond to the questions.  It seems this will undoubtedly lead to inconsistent reporting of data, which will then threaten the validity of the benchmarking exercise.


Reliance on memories of past events

The dates used for this study are July 1, 2009 through June 30, 2010. Thus, units have been asked to answer questions about activities that occurred as many as 16 months ago.   Additionally, the fact that this study was not presented until after the dates of the research presents a challenge to the relevance of the results. Though it is likely that many units track some of the information requested it is almost certain that no unit could obtain all of the information with real accuracy.  This issue was compounded by the fact that units were asked to consider all employees in all classifications, including Hourly, of which some units employ hundreds.


Uniqueness of the academic environment

The companies the university hired for the benchmarking project have not done significant work with universities.  This was illustrated by the fact that no questions existed for the Student Services segment of the study and that time spent supporting faculty-related activities, such as promotion and tenure, were not addressed.   These activities are integral parts of the university’s mission, as noted in President McRobbie’s Principles of Excellence.  It is a great concern that the resources devoted to these activities will not be reflected in the study’s results.


Limited timeline

The amount of time dedicated to this exercise is not conducive to its success.  Training was held on November 18 and 19, access to the questions was given on November 19, and all responses were due by January 7.  Needless to say, this allowed only a month and a half to collect and enter the data. Moreover that month and a half included two significant family holidays, finals week, and fall commencement.   As units rushed to gather the information, they were forced to require unreasonably fast response time from their staff. 


In addition, some units have been uncertain as to who should answer certain questions.  When it was discovered that the person originally contacted was not the correct person, it significantly reduced the amount of time that the correct person had to produce the information needed. 


Quantity versus quality

As most of the questions in this study focused on numbers, e.g., number of transactions, number of sessions, dollars spent, there is a fear that the quality of services provided will not be considered. The study seems to reduce interactions with faculty, students, and staff to a percentage of time as opposed to computing the quality of the “human” part of such support.


We would also like to take this opportunity to state that we feel  stronger support of a university-wide performance management program would have been a more efficient, effective, and cost wise way to begin looking at the university administration’s concerns.  Though university policy for Professional Staff states, “all operating units are to develop and implement a participative performance management program that will provide each employee with the feedback, planning, and development objectives described below”, there are Professional Staff employees throughout campus, including several currently on the Council, who have never had a performance evaluation despite having worked for the university for several years. 


We would like to see University Human Resource Services work more effectively to train, support, develop, and follow up on a university-wide performance management program.  Through a more streamlined and consistent performance management program, we feel that this will result in similar results to the benchmarking survey, but will provide more opportunity for long-term development and growth.


The Council hopes that you will consider our concerns, which reflect that of numerous Professional Staff employees across campus, many of which shared their concerns with us.  We ask that the data used to make any decisions about changes in service, and more specifically, changes in staffing, be shared with the entire IU community.