- Associated Press - Thursday, October 2, 2014

AMES, Iowa (AP) - Iowa’s three public universities could save tens of millions of dollars in coming years and eliminate up to 250 jobs by dramatically restructuring their administration, according to a consultant’s report released Thursday.

The schools could downsize many departments’ human resources, information technology and finance positions by having their functions performed at a college- or university-wide level, Deloitte Consulting LLP said.

The jobs could be cut over two years through attrition and phased retirements, Deloitte said in a 138-page report, which cautioned that the staffing and savings figures were rough estimates and would be affected by how universities implement changes. The report also recommended the schools cut costs by requiring some workers to use network printers and virtual desktops rather than having their own printers and computers.

The Iowa Board of Regents discussed the proposals during a meeting at Iowa State University in Ames on Thursday. Regents plan to gather feedback at forms on all 3 campuses beginning next week before voting on whether to implement the plans in November.

Board President Bruce Rastetter acknowledged that employees would be anxious about changes that might affect their jobs. But he said many of the cuts could be accomplished through attrition, “minimizing the impact on people’s lives and their jobs.” He said it was premature to discuss whether layoffs would be necessary, or how phased retirements might work. Typically, those involve offering long-term employees the option of reducing their work and pay but keeping their benefits for a period of time.

Deloitte consultant Rick Ferraro said any job cuts likely would be at least a year away.

The board, which hired Deloitte earlier this year to look for ways to cut costs and improve services, has already voted to proceed with major changes to how the schools buy goods and services. Changes to academic programs are expected to be developed in coming months, after the board hires another consultant to help with that work.

“This is a long-term transformation,” Regent Larry McKibben said. “It’s a transformation that we hope is something that really leads to even better efficiency and lower costs for the students.”

Rastetter said the savings would be kept by the universities to invest in other initiatives and hold down tuition costs. He said the board’s decisions won’t be easy, but changes are necessary to better serve students and parents and make the schools financially sustainable long-term.

“I’ve always believed that if you are wasting money, you should stop,” Rastetter told reporters.

Deloitte’s report said the schools could see savings by consolidating employees who handle functions such as desktop support, accounting, travel and expense reporting and payroll and benefits. For example, up to 35 University of Iowa information technology jobs could be cut, 12 percent of the school’s IT staff, and save $26 million over 10 years.

Up to 125 finance jobs at the schools could be cut if those services were handled at the university-level, which Deloitte consultant Emily Todd called “a really big shift in the way they do business.” A less drastic option would be to move those tasks to individual colleges, which would save less money, she said.

Many of the plans require upfront investment in computer systems to reduce the work associated with tasks currently performed manually.

Regent Subhash Sahai said he wanted to hear “unvarnished feedback” from employees about the pros and cons before moving forward.

Deloitte’s Ferraro predicted there would be consensus “that a lot of these things do make sense and are very helpful to the universities and Iowans.”

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Follow Ryan J. Foley on Twitter at https://twitter.com/rjfoley

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