URBANA — Sometimes, when he's asked to sign a form, University of Illinois President Robert Easter notices six other names on the signature line besides his own.
"When I see that, I wonder if we don't have too many layers reviewing things," Easter said recently.
Even as the UI prepares to set up an annual review process for academic units, Easter has commissioned a similar effort on the administrative side, at the urging of UI trustees.
The study of university-level administration is in its early stages, with a report expected by next spring.
Given an ongoing slide in state funding and constraints on tuition increases, "we have to look at efficiencies in our operations," Easter said. "Our board is very concerned about redundancies."
The UI spends about $113 million of its $5 billion annual budget on central administration — about 2.25 percent — which includes everything from the president's office to budgeting to university lawyers to the UI Research Park.
Two years ago, the university went through an Administrative Review and Restructuring process that identified $60 million in savings in broader administrative services across the university, such as procurement and information technology. Among the changes: more centralized purchasing and the creation of business centers rather than separate business offices for each academic unit.
But Easter said that effort picked the "low-hanging fruit," whereas the new effort will dig deeper, examining administrative offices for redundancies and value to the UI's core academic mission.
The review is being led by Bill Adams, who retired June 30 as associate provost in Urbana but was hired back for another year as a special assistant to Easter for this project.
Adams said he has been at the UI for 24 years and knows all three campuses and the university administration "very well. I have no vested interest, since I'm not going to be here long-term."
Adams said the review will examine all university-level administrative units, including the president's office, governmental relations, legal counsel, and the vice president for academic affairs, vice president for research and vice president for business/chief financial officer.
The vice president for health affairs, a relatively new university-level office created by former President Michael Hogan, is not part of this review, officials said.
One motivation for the review is to improve efficiency and save money. But it will also look at the scope of each office to reduce duplication and determine whether the money budgeted is appropriate and contributes to the UI's academic mission, Adams said.
"We have a set of core missions we're supposed to be doing — teaching, research service and public engagement," Adams said. "That's our core business. Everything else is to support those things."
Finally, the goal is to set up an annual review process for those units, to formally assess their missions, how they're using their resources, and how they're contributing to the academic mission, he said.
"I think we're facing a constrained resource environment for a long time here," Adams said.
Hogan created several new centralized positions at the university level, including an associate vice president for information technology. Those will be examined as part of the overall review, though they were not a specific target, Adams said.
Seven review teams with representatives from each campus will divvy up the administrative units and report back by early March with their recommendations, he said.
Each committee will be chaired by a dean from one of the three campuses, plus five other members — a "customer" of the unit from each campus, a faculty member with expertise in that area, and a university administration employee who is not from that unit.
Adams said he is working with the chancellors, faculty senates and university administrators on the appointments.
"What I want is a very fair, open process. I don't want to go through something where there are no positive results at the end. This is going to take a lot of people's time," Adams said.
He has no particular savings target in mind, but "certainly we think it's an opportunity for some pretty significant cost savings," as well as improvements in accountability, he said.
A steering committee with representatives from each campus and the university administration, including Vice President for Academic Affairs Christophe Pierre, will oversee the process, Adams said.
The committees' recommendations will be forwarded to Easter, Pierre and the campus chancellors and provosts next spring, and they will make the final decisions, Adams said.
Professor Nicholas Burbules, who chairs the University Senates Conference and is working with Adams on the faculty appointments, said he was encouraged that Easter described the function of administration as service and support for the campuses.
"This is a very serious review. There are aspects of it that are long overdue," Burbules said. "I think they are looking to make some serious savings."
"If we're facing reductions, university administration has to hold up its share along with every other part of the university," he added.
Randall Kangas, associate vice president for planning and budgeting, said there have been several efforts over the last decade to reduce administrative costs, including a 6.1 percent cut for every administrative unit last year.
Overall, he said, institutional support — centralized business, legal and information technology services and administrative offices — makes up about 5 percent of the UI's total costs.
"You will not fix the university's or the state's budget problems on the back of the administration. There just isn't that much of it centrally," he said. "But every little bit helps."
(Note: Per the comment below, the administrative costs do include most of the salaries for former UI administrators Michael Hogan, Richard Herman and B. Joseph White, as well as the buyout for Lisa Troyer, although part of White's salary is paid by the College of Business. -- Julie Wurth)
University administration budget
FY 2008 to FY 2013
Fiscal 2008: $103.3 million
Fiscal 2009: $107.6 million
Fiscal 2010: $110.7 million
Fiscal 2011: $105.2 million
Fiscal 2012: $125.7 million
Fiscal 2013: $113.3 million
Source: University of Illinois Budget Summary of Operations