Project 50 forward moves on unknown track

Originally published on Nov. 2, 2011

Stony Brook University’s Project 50 Forward is on-track and continuing to progress, according to President Samuel L. Stanley, Jr.’s State of the University address. The only problem is that no one seems to know exactly what track the project is supposed to stay on.

“I believe Project 50 Forward will add value to the Stony Brook degree, propel us into the ranks of the top 20 public research universities, and make a positive impact on every associated…but it is going to require the involvement of our entire university community,” Stanley said in his address. “With your suggestions, engagement and support, we will look for every opportunity to provide our faculty and students with the resources they need to excel.”

On the Project 50 Forward website, there is a contact link where visitors can ask questions and leave comments. According to James Montalto, the media relations manager, the process of gathering the feedback information has ended. Faculty and student focus groups were formed at the end of last spring. At this point, however, meetings and consults have ended.

“The student and faculty focus groups, teams and committees met often during the 18-month review to enable the consultant and the Program Management Office to secure a comprehensive perspective during the review process,” said Montalto in an email. “The meetings have concluded.”

From this point on, the implementation and oversight will be coordinated by the Program Management Office.

The 18-month marker was intended to conclude the Operational Excellence prong of the project. But as of now, there has been no announcement stating this phase has been completed.

Fred Walter, the university senate president, supports the project as a whole, but is concerned with the lack of communication, he said.

“The Senate complaint is that there is no written guidance,” Walter said. “I am fearful that the plans are going forward without enough faculty oversight. Part of the difficulty with Project 50 Forward is the consultant left at the end of June.”

Bain and Company suggested the process in which Stony Brook carried out their plans, and after their consultation, it became the university’s responsibility to follow up with the proposed changes.

The majority of the savings will come from office supplies and the implementation of Shared Service Centers. According to James Fabian, the assistant vice president of procurement services, these small adjustments will save the university about $10 million.

“We’re looking at every possible expense…from office supplies to travel on campus,” Fabian said.

Stanley’s message to faculty and staff, which was published on the Project 50 Forward website in August, expanded upon this view. Stony Brook bought about $160 million worth of goods and services in 2009, a number that can be decreased by 6 to 9 percent. Spending policies have been set as well as a “strict focus to limit hiring as the university fills vacancies internally where possible through a process of redeployment and reassignment providing training and development of staff if needed.” This should reduce time and cost to hire by about 40 percent, according to the report.

“The university vowed that it was not going to lay people off,” Walter said. “But there is not a particular job guarantee. Management has the right to determine where people are [staffed].”

From here on, the Program Management Office is overseeing the Operational Excellence phase of Project 50 Forward. The university community can expect an update in the coming weeks. Faculty, students and staff can expect more changes, and hopefully more detailed information.

“These are trying times,” Walter said. “Business as usual is not going to work.”

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