Below is a list of frequently asked questions and answers about the Operational Excellence Program.
Launched in February 2016, the Operational Excellence Program is an in-depth and comprehensive opportunity assessment of nearly every aspect of our University. It is the most extensive review of administrative and academic operations that has ever taken place in at SLU.
Initiative Five of our strategic plan calls for us foster a culture of excellence, effectiveness and efficiency that is also rooted in our mission and values. To achieve our highest aspirations and the bold ambitions of our strategic plan — while continuing to further our ability to carry out our mission — we must make sustained improvements to how we operate.
No, but we are not immune to national pressures in higher education. The problems are compounded in the Midwest, where the number of high school graduates is declining. If we do not implement significant changes, an annual loss in the range of $10-$20 million is projected for the next several years. (Auditors confirmed we closed out fiscal year 2016 with a deficit of $16.7 million or just over 2 percent of our more than $771 million total University budget.) Cumulative financial losses over time will impact our ability to pursue strategic priorities, address academic needs, invest in our people and serve the St. Louis region.
For the past several years, our overall revenues have declined due to many interwoven factors, including enrollment, tuition discounting, government research grants and philanthropic support. At the same time that revenues fell slightly, our overall costs have continued to rise, including compensation and benefits, which account for about 75 percent of our total expenses. This unsustainable trend of flat revenues and rising costs led to a budget gap of approximately $16 million in FY16.
Through this program, we have identified 25 initiatives that we will pursue over the next 1-3 years. Over time, they have the combined potential to deliver more than $40 million in savings and new revenues that we can invest in our people, our programs and strategic priorities.
No. As its name makes clear, the goal of this program is to create a culture of excellence — to become better in all that we do. It’s about strengthening our core purposes, including teaching, research and health care, as well as supporting our talented students. Over time, this program will help us build a culture of continuous improvement and organizational structure that sustains the enhancements that we will make.
To lead this process, we formed a steering committee of faculty, staff and student representatives who have reviewed data, guided analysis and provided input from a University-wide perspective. This steering committee is chaired by the Provost and Chief Financial Officer, who make recommendations to the President, who has final decision-making authority.
Since the program’s launch, we have solicited feedback from hundreds of members of the SLU community. Going forward, there will continue to be opportunities for faculty and staff to stay informed, to be engaged, and to contribute to the transformation that is underway at SLU.
Faculty and staff comprise the groups that are developing options for the focus improvement areas. These teams are seeking input from other faculty and staff who are involved in related processes and procedures that may be changing, recognizing that they will have great insight into how we can make improvements.
Throughout all phases of the program, the role of the consultants is to provide hands-on support based on their extensive expertise in higher education. The process and decisions belong to us alone. This is our program, and the solutions we design for the improvement focus areas are being led by SLU.
Yes. From the beginning, we made clear that staffing levels and reporting structures would be reviewed. As part of an effort to redesign our organization, the positions of approximately 120 staff members and administrators — of nearly 2,900 staff and administrative positions — were eliminated in March 2017. (Approximately 15 of these individuals accepted alternative positions at SLU.) This reduction reflects 4 percent of all staff members and administrators employed by the University. In addition, we eliminated 130 staff and administrative positions that were vacant as a result of a strategic position review process that began in November 2015. In May or June 2017, some additional position eliminations may be announced in the School of Medicine, which is on a staggered timeline given the recent arrival of a new Dean and Vice President for Medical Affairs.
Treating departing staff members with dignity, respect and compassion has been our utmost concern. We are grateful for their service, and to support them during their transition, we offered an enhanced severance package that includes increased severance pay, extended health care coverage, expanded tuition benefits, job placement assistance by an external firm, and access to employee assistance program services, such as counseling.
Unfortunately, our current financial challenges constrain our ability to fulfill our core purposes and implement our strategic priorities. As stewards of a nearly 200-year-old mission, we have a responsibility to transform SLU in ways that will assure our long-term impact and history of excellence. Though these difficult decisions were unavoidable, we regret the impact that these actions have on our staff members and their families.
The vice presidents and deans followed a thoughtful, strategic and data-driven process to review their organizations. They developed plans that seek to meet the goals of the operational excellence program and to create an organizational structure that accomplishes the work they believe needs to be done in the future. They worked diligently to ensure that the difficult decisions they had to make were fair and objective.
Staff and administrative positions were eliminated in every operational and academic unit. Position elimination also impacted every type of staff position — from senior-level to front-line. Through organization design, we sought to flatten the organization, by reducing the number of layers up to the president and increasing the number of people managers supervise. We have made improvements in both of those areas, and we will seek further enhancements over time as new hires are made.
Part of the organizational restructuring involved trying to find the right balance between centralization and decentralization for certain administrative functions: enrollment, finance, information technology and marketing. In reviewing who should manage these administrative functional support activities and in what location the activities should be performed, the goal is to create a less complex organization that delivers high-quality support at an equitable level across the institution.
Organizational redesign has been a critical focus area, but it was not anticipated to address the entire deficit alone. The academic reinvention initiative that’s underway now is another important focus area. Once it and the other initiatives are completed, we will have identified opportunities for both cost savings and new revenues that we can reinvest in our people, academic programs and strategic priorities. Growth is an essential part of Saint Louis University’s future. The operational excellence program will also help us become more efficient and effective as an organization so that we can sustain the improvements that we make.
We don’t foresee the elimination staff positions on a larger scale this year. Some staff positions within the School of Medicine may be eliminated as part of the organization redesign process, which was staggered due to the recent arrival of a new Dean and Vice President for Medical Affairs. Those changes are expected to be communicated in May or June 2017. In addition, ITS is continuing to review its operations. The possible impact on staff positions is unknown. ITS leadership will communicate when there is more clarity regarding any possible changes.
While no final decisions have been made, it is our hope that a merit pool will be available to provide merit increases in FY18. In recent years, annual budgets have been presented to the Board of Trustees in May for review and approval. It is at this time when decisions about raises would be known. Long-term, once we have addressed our budgetary challenges, the President has committed to devote at least 20 percent of the positive net results realized by this program to bring our compensation practices in line with the priorities of our strategic plan.
What we established in November 2015 was a position-review process. Only those positions deemed critical to our mission were considered for rehiring. This was a strategic decision based on our financial challenges at the time, but it also reduced the number of people impacted by position eliminations. As part of the organization redesign initiative, leaders were tasked with restructuring their units. The goal was to create an organizational structure that accomplishes the work they believe needs to be done in the future. In some cases, their plans involved open positions and hiring would occur according to the plan.
We are conducting an extensive review of our academic enterprise, and there may be changes that decrease the number of our courses, sections and/or faculty positions. This work is underway and will continue over the next 1-3 years. This effort is being led by the Provost, who will work to advance ongoing collaborative efforts with deans, the Faculty Senate, and the faculty assemblies of the academic units. We will pursue all academic initiatives in a manner consistent with shared governance, in accordance with the Faculty Manual and with respect for faculty responsibility for curriculum.
Students have remained our foremost concern throughout this process, and we are taking great care in all of our planning to make sure their needs continue to be met. While we are not expecting to have significant program closures, should we decide to disestablish a program, we are absolutely committed to ensuring that students will be able to complete their degrees with an enriching and rigorous educational experience.
A transformative residential life experience is one of the priorities of our strategic plan. This isn’t just an investment in buildings; it’s an investment in people — specifically current and future students who want a modern living/learning experience that is reflective of an institution of our stature. It’s important to note that the cost of construction is being financed over a 30-year period like a home mortgage, and the facilities will generate revenues that will help fund their ongoing operation. Even when facing challenges, it is important that we continue to invest in the future of SLU. We are committed to carrying on the mission of this University forever; we are in this for the long-haul.
Yes, and it’s vitally important that you do. From the very beginning, we said that the success of this program depends on all of us working together collaboratively. From open forums, to focus groups, to feedback surveys, we will continue to provide opportunities for you to participate in the process. And at any time, you are encouraged to submit questions and comments — anonymously if you prefer — via this website. All feedback is welcome.