Jun 8, 2017

Citing €500,000 Annual Cost, Staff Oppose New Faculty Managers

Three new faculty managers, who will earn over €110,000 each, will help oversee individual schools.

Dominic McGrathDeputy Editor
Ruby Smyth for The University Times

A new proposal, which would see a major shake-up of Trinity’s often rigid administrative system, has already generated significant opposition from senior staff across the College’s 24 schools, with claims it will cost nearly €500,000 a year.

According to a presentation made to Trinity’s heads of school at a meeting on June 1st, obtained by The University Times, the three managers will be placed on the highest payscale available for administrative staff, meaning their annual salary will be in the range of €110,000 and €140,000.

The proposal has already generated significant opposition and concern among both heads of school and school administrators. In a letter sent to the Vice-Provost, Prof Chris Morash, and obtained by The University Times, signed by all 24 school administrators, they state that the new system, which is part of a college-wide update of Trinity’s administrative systems, creates an “unnecessary management layer” and “does not represent value for money”.


Speaking to The University Times, Morash questioned the figure of €500,000 cited by staff, but acknowledged that there would be a cost involved: “There’s certainly the case that so much work now happens at faculty level, for faculty offices to have the best possible admin support in there, it makes sense to me.”

Morash confirmed that the proposal was approved on Tuesday, June 6th at a meeting of Trinity’s Executive Officer Group, which is made up of Provost Patrick Prendergast and some of the most senior administrative and academic staff in Trinity. The decision will mean that Executive Officer Group will continue to support the proposal, but will seek further consultation before any implementation of the proposal.

If implementation of the new structure is based on the proposal approved this week, it will significantly change the faculty-level management structure and, while remaining largely invisible to most students, will significantly redefine the administrative process within Trinity and change the relationship between Trinity’s 24 schools and the three faculties. Further consultations will take place with heads of schools and school administrators following Tuesday’s approval, as Trinity tries to address the concerns of staff who remain sceptical of a change they say will significantly redefine the administrative process between schools, faculties and senior management.

Executive Officer Group agreed on Tuesday that the proposal should move forward, but more consultation would be sought with heads of schools and school administrators. In an email to The University Times, Morash said: “It was agreed that it should go forward, but that the next step was extensive consultation with all those involved – School Administrators, Heads of School, and Faculty Administrators.” This will mean that further consultation will take place before implementation of the proposal is considered.

The letter from school administrators questions the decision to focus money on the restructuring at a time when other areas are equally in need of funding, during a time when Trinity’s finances are heavily constrained by a higher education funding crisis.

Based on a report by Pat Millar of Clarion Consulting, who has worked with Trinity in the past over a range of academic and administrative reforms and “enhancement programmes”, the proposed reform will introduce greater faculty-level oversight of the work of Trinity’s schools, with the new managers working in partnership with the faculty deans. As part of this report, Clarion Consulting conducted meetings with staff in six schools, spread evenly across the three faculties, reviewing the level of managerial oversight and school administrator’s relationship with the Academic Secretary who, under the current governance model, they’re meant to report to.

The report is criticised strongly by the school administrators in their letter to Morash, who describe it as “unseen” and which was compiled with “limited input and without opportunity for feedback or review”.

The proposal, they go on to say, “introduces a dual reporting line which will interfere with both the statutory role and responsibilities of Heads of Schools and will lead to conflicts of interest at many levels”.

Morash acknowledged that the proposal was controversial, calling the response “visceral” and putting this down to the close professional relationship between school administrators and heads of school.

However, defending the restructuring, he said it was not about centralising control of schools, or undermining heads of schools, but instead creating “clusters at faculty level of administrative staff”.

“It’s not to produce a situation where the faculty manager might be telling the administrator one thing and the head of school telling them another. It’s really a case of working together.”

Commenting on the criticism of Clarion Consulting’s report, Morash acknowledged that more feedback might have been useful, but emphasised that College will be engaging with and talking to schools and administrators before implementing this new structure, following this week’s approval.

“The whole thing could be done fairly simply if you wanted to do it in a less consultative way”, he said. Such a proposal, Morash said, would not need to be approved by the College Board: “Changing a reporting line doesn’t require that level of approval.”

However, it is the cost of the three new managers that is the focus of the letter from the school administrators, as they cite a €500,000 annual cost. Describing it as a very serious cost for a university facing “serious resource deficiencies”, they suggest the money might be better spent on areas like improving the physical infrastructure of the university and reducing the pressure on school budgets. The new managers, they say, “will divert scarce funds from the essential delivery of critical resources within the organisation”.

Commenting on the suggestion that other projects or areas might need the money more, Morash suggested it was unhelpful to “imagine a pot of money as if it exists and it can be just moved around anywhere. There are always things we could find to spend money on and there was an allocation made for this”.

In an earlier presentation from a meeting between Prendergast, Morash and Trinity’s three faculty deans, seen by The University Times, dated April 6th 2017, it stated that the faculty managers would receive a salary in the range of €75,000 to €96,000. This is incorrectly stated to be a “Senior Administrative 1” salary, or the highest salary an administrative officer can receive, whereas in fact this is the third-highest salary scale senior administrative staff can receive in Trinity. Morash confirmed that the new managers will receive a “Senior Admin 1” salary.

Under the proposal, the faculty managers will replace the existing faculty administrators, who currently provide support to the deans of Trinity’s three faculties: Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences; Engineering, Mathematics and Sciences; and Health Sciences.

With a title that reflects more of a decision-making, rather than a purely administrative, role, the faculty managers will have a considerably more expansive role than the faculty administrators they’re set to replace, offering more of an oversight and organisational role than more limited role of faculty administrators. The empowered managers, according to the April presentation, will provide more “enhanced” support to the faculty deans as well as driving improvement in each faculty.

However, Morash emphasised that the new managers would not be taking up part of the role of faculty deans. “There’s no power or authority or whatever you want to call it that the dean has at the moment that will be transferred to a faculty manager and likewise in terms of the head of school and the school administrator. There’s no question of that.”

The rationale for the new hires, set out in the April presentation, focuses on the need for “more consistent management” of faculty and school staff, as well as the adoption of “consistent processes” across Trinity’s schools. The College needs, according to the presentation, long-term professional management of school administrators, something that’s missing from the current role of the head of school.

Under the existing and long-established management structure, which has remained largely unchanged since it was introduced in 2004, school administrators are jointly managed by the head of their school and by the academic secretary, who helps implement and develop academic policy within Trinity. The new structure will mean school administrators will now instead report to both the head of school and the faculty manager, sidelining the management role of the Academic Secretary.

College seems to have rejected a second proposal, contained in the April presentation, that would have introduced a single faculty manager across the whole of College. The decision to choose three, rather than one, faculty managers comes from a fear that a single manager’s “span of control that is too large to be effective”, would have a “very limited ability to drive process change” and would require the three faculty administrator roles to remain in place.

One of Trinity’s trade unions, the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT), has already been informed of the restructuring by concerned staff. Speaking to The University Times by email, Dermot Frost, the Secretary of Trinity’s IFUT branch, said: “This consultant-led restructuring of College administration was undertaken without much, if any, engagement with the affected staff.”

The addition of the new managers, Frost said, seems wasteful “at a time when College claims to be unable to provide permanent contracts of employment to staff due to our dire financial situation”.

The restructuring comes as the Trinity Education Project enters its final phase before implementation in 2018/19. The project, which is seeking to significantly redefine Trinity’s undergraduate education, has already sought individual schools’ views on the project and on the ambitious reform of Trinity’s undergraduate education, as overseen by Morash.

Trinity’s schools, like the university as a whole, are currently facing severe financial challenges as funding is squeezed and budgets tightly controlled. The June proposal sets out a number of other recommendations for Trinity’s school administration, including induction and development programmes and changing schools’ approach to student recruitment, marketing programmes and the use of social media.

Róisín Power also contributed reporting to this piece.

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