University Administration Office disappears, there will be no redundancies

The lines between the Executive Board and the UBD management must be shorter, says UU President. Photo: DUB

This is not a reorganisation, assured Pijpers during the meeting of the council of the University Administration Office, which took place on Thursday, March 31. “There will be no redundancies, we need everybody”, guaranteed the UU president. However, this “organisational development”, as Pijpers prefers to call it, will have considerable consequences.

For starters, the position of managing director of the UAO is set to disappear. In its place, there will be a new position, called university secretary’. Although this person is going to take over some of the duties of the current managing director, their focus will lie on whether the university's strategy is being followed. The different boards of directors will fall directly under the Executive Board. The disappearance of the UAO also means that employee participation is going to be organised differently. “But we will keep the Service Council”, observed Pijpers.

Reducing work pressure and increasing efficiency
The Executive Board has multiple reasons to change UAO's organisation structure, says the UU president. “What we want is to increase the efficiency and integrality of the board.” Not because Utrecht University is doing poorly, but because it could do better. Pijpers: “The work pressure is high and although we could request more money from the state to hire more people, that would not be the only solution. We have many plans and ambitions and since everyone at UU is so engaged, it is difficult to prioritise. We have a lot of responsibilities, but we find it hard to make choices. We must all move more clearly in one direction as that would increase our efficiency. So, how do we organise that?"

According to Pijpers, the change was already being considered before the Covid-19 pandemic broke out but had to be put on hold due to the virus. A few months ago, the ideas were brought back to life. UU's president says that the decision to eliminate the UAO is meant to follow up on what has already changed across the university. “The horizontal lines have been greatly improved throughout the past few years.” He refers to the many partnerships that already exist within the Administration Office, such as the cooperation between ITS management and education in the project Educate-It. Furthermore, he mentions the cooperation in the area of internationalisation where teaching, research, human resources and communication work together. One can also think of the smart buildings where the Faculty Service Centre, Property & Campus and ITS cooperate closely.

Now the vertical lines are next. “How do we prioritise and monitor the managerial agenda?”, wondered Pijpers. The managerial agenda includes the intentions mentioned in the university's Strategic Plan and the obligations set by the Dutch state, such as having the finances in order. Currently, it is hard for the college members to know if the vision set by the Executive Board is also being taken up on the work floor. “We want to reduce those lines to ensure faculties exchange feedback quicker amongst each other and with the managerial boards and the Executive Board. “Our aim is to expand our involvement on the work floor by learning quicker whether what we envisioned is feasible.”

Not very clear
The Executive Board thinks that the efficiency will improve if a layer between the eight executive boards of the UAO and the college members is removed. That is the layer of the managing director. The college members will then consult directly with the different directors. Through more direct contact, it will become more evident for the managerial boards which matters have to be prioritised and which not. That will in its turn, reduce the work pressure. The new secretary has to focus on the implementation of the strategy more than the managing director. “This will be the first advisor of the Executive Board.”

The plans for the new organisation are not very concrete yet. “There is no blueprint”. Pijpers says that the first step has already been taken. “We have set the direction.” The following step is to see how decisions are made and how that connects to the way UU works. This will happen in dialogue with directors and the employee participation council. Afterwards, the UAO will be redesigned. The road still seems long, but Pijpers wants the new organisation to start in July. “Formally, the UAO will cease to exist but we cherish the cooperation between the different services.” This concerns the eight managerial boards including Communication & Marketing, Human Resources and Property & Campus and the Department of Legal Affairs, which now falls under the managing director.

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Een aantal stafdiensten die nu onder de Algemeen Directeur vallen, moeten nog onderdak krijgen elders binnen de bestuursdiensten. Een paar zullen vallen onder de secretaris van de universiteit.

Consequences for UAO employees
The employee council, who was informed first about the plans for the UAO, came with critical questions. Until last week, the council members were unfamiliar with the plans and the Executive Board also hasn’t written an official statement. Councilmember Bobby Baidjnath Misier concludes that “something's changing at the top of the organisation”, but the council can’t estimate what this will mean for the rest of the organisation. Additionally, he can’t understand why an organisation change is necessary: “if the UU is doing well, why has this direction been chosen?”

Pijpers stresses that more prioritisation is needed to reduce the work pressure. “Hopefully, we receive more money from the state but that won’t be enough to realise everything we want. That’s why we have to prioritise. Additionally, we will become more efficient through the shorter lines we're aiming for”. Pijpers thinks that is going to be possible in the new organisation. The chosen direction has been carefully thought through and inspired by other universities. “However, everyone does it differently and eventually, we arrived at this model because this new design ensures shorter lines between the managerial boards and the Executive Board".

Councilmember Laura Hendricx inquires how the board will evaluate whether the goal of the organisation change has been realised. “We'll evaluate it continually”, replies Pijpers. “Less work pressure, better prioritisation. We won’t know that yet at the end of the year. In the meantime, we pick it up from the employees. The specific parameters on which we are going to evaluate still need to be worked out. Some of these will be known before July.”

Impact changes unclear
Also, the new position of the secretary raises a question. What is the difference between a secretary and a managing director? Pijpers: “The position of secretary entails more”. Baidjnath Misier sees a shift of work pressure towards the secretary and the Executive Board: “Why would you do that?” According to Pijpers, there is no intention of shifting the workload, but it is not clear how that is not going to happen. After the meeting, Pijpers said that the position of managing director is not being terminated because Leon van de Zande is not performing well. “His work is great”, said the UU president. So much so that he is going to take up the position of secretary.

Although Pijpers indicated that there won’t be any redundancies, the council is not at ease with the news. Lenn Lamkin: “You say that no one will lose their job, but you also say that you can’t oversee the impact of the changes on the UAO employees. How does this relate to each other?” Pijpers' answer is that he thinks the university needs more rather than fewer people. “There will be changes regarding the role of the director but we don't know yet what the changes will be for the rest of the staff. We still have to work that out.”

Co-determination formally excluded
There are also concerns about co-determination. Marcel Boer inquired how this will be organised. “We don’t want a council per management board”, Pijpers says. “As far as we are concerned, the council remains as it is, but we still have to look into who the contact point will be.”

“You explicitly call this an organisation development as you don’t consider this a reorganisation. However, a lot is going to change”, Lamkin responds. Pijpers: “Formally, this is not a reorganisation since no one is losing their job.” But, Lamkin concludes, co-determination was officially excluded from the decision making. “While it can still be necessary.” Pijpers: “We will start a dialogue with the employee participation, we are having an open debate on this.”

All employees of the UAO got an e-mail from the board announcing the plans in detail. It contains an e-mail address to which employees can send questions. They will be answered by the "core team" dealing with the organisational changes. This core team includes Managing Director Leon van de Zande as Chairman and Human Resources Director Aletta Huizenga. The Executive Board will also consult with the University Council and the local consultative body in which the trade unions are represented.