Tomorrow is the deadline for submission of bids in response to a request for proposals (RFP) for “Organizational Consulting Services for Benchmarking, Effectiveness, Efficiency and Flexibility Study at UW-Madison.”
Some members of the campus community have expressed concern over the process by which we got to the point of releasing this RFP as well as over the likely cost-benefit ratio, especially in light of criticisms posted in the wake of a similar consulting contract at UC Berkeley.
The train has not quite left the station, as the administration still has the task before it of choosing one vendor from among whatever proposals are submitted. It’s at least theoretically possible that the administration, responding to unanticipated pushback from the faculty and staff shared governance bodies, could choose “none of the above, ” or at the very least take a nuanced, even skeptical view of the qualifications and proposed methods of the bidders.
But one way or another, some kind of organizational review seems inevitable in the face of mounting budget pressures. As we embark on that task, let us continually remind ourselves — and any consultants that get involved — that not every variable affecting the financial health and productivity of an institution can be plugged into a cell in a spreadsheet.
How does one measure, or account for, the dollar value of faculty and staff morale or their loyalty to the University? How much does it cost the University if the number of retention packages that have to be put together to keep top faculty from leaving doubles? How much does productivity go down if staff feel unappreciated and no longer care about the success of the unit or institution they work for?
We may not know how to put a dollar figure on these intangible factors, but we know that it must be large. Many of us still choose not to apply for jobs elsewhere even though we could. Many of us still work 60 hour weeks even though we have tenure. We do so for reasons that (for now) still trump the demoralizing pattern of meaningless merit pay exercises and mandatory unpaid furloughs.
But it seems fairly certain that an outside consulting firm focusing on reams of raw data and on ratios of product X to the salaries of those who produce X will be ill-equipped, if not disinclined, to take the intangible qualities of loyalty and morale into account, let alone the role our deeply entrenched — and uniquely Madisonian — traditions of collegiality and bottom-up governance play in promoting both.