UP CLOSE: Is Yale becoming too corporate?

Is Yale becoming too corporate?

Published on April 14, 2016

Down the block from Warner House sits an eight-story office building, a monolithic block of glass and brick. University Provost Benjamin Polak once worked in Warner House, but after Yale created a new position for a dean to oversee the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Polak’s offices relocated to the fourth floor of 2 Whitney Grove Square.

The relocation of the Provost’s Office from a classic Yale landmark on Hillhouse Avenue to a modern office building is more than just a change in locale. It also typifies what some have described as the increasing corporatization of Yale.

The so-called “corporatization” of the University is tricky to define and even trickier to actually observe. Staff members worry that their ranks continue to shrink after more than a decade of efforts to centralize the University’s body of staff and make it more efficient. Faculty members are more concerned that Yale’s senior administration is growing too large — expanding to include a bevy of vice presidents, provosts and deans — at the expense of the University’s academic community.

“People use the word [corporatization] without defining it,” said Vice President for Finance Stephen Murphy ’87, who helps Polak manage Yale’s finances. “The question becomes … Is the addition of administrative support at all levels, including the senior levels, effective and efficient?”

The inner workings of Yale’s administration are deeply complex, but staff and faculty with decades of institutional memory say Yale is no longer the same school it was only a decade ago, before large-scale staff reorganizations began. Furthermore, they said, working at Yale feels increasingly like being part of a company, not part of an institution devoted to research and education.

Has the restructuring of the staff and the growth of the senior administration really sacrificed community in the name of efficiency? Is corporatization sterilizing Yale, or strengthening it?


For Yale’s staff, the trend of corporatization has become apparent in the University’s attempts to streamline and condense into central offices.

A few decades ago, many of Yale’s 9,455 administrative staff worked closer to central campus, working in departments and offices near Old Campus and Hillhouse Avenue. Today, around 1,000 staff work in a number of new finance, business, dining, printing and facilities offices in the 80-acre Science Park site more than a mile from Yale’s main campus.

Former Deputy Provost Charles “Chip” Long, who worked as an administrator at Yale from 1973 to 2010, described a work environment at Yale in the 1990s that was “like a family.” He said Yale used to have a reputation as a school that paid its staff relatively low wages but provided excellent benefits in health, retirement and college tuition support. Staff often stayed with departments for their entire lives.

But perhaps in part because of that level of comfort, the old Yale was not as efficient as it could have been.

“It felt like a very homey system. FAS had a mom-and-pop operation,” Long said. “This was not the most effective or efficient system. We often didn’t have the best outcomes.”

That system started to change in the early 2000s, as Yale hired more staff and took steps to make the workforce more cost-effective.

From 2005 to 2016, Yale’s staff grew by 18 percent, from 8,005 staff members to 9,455. The biggest gains by far were among a subsection of the staff known as managerial and professional workers, some of whom joined Yale as consultants to help make the University’s business teams more efficient. The number of service and maintenance as well as clerical and technical staff members declined over the past decade by almost 200 employees. But the M&P staff — many of whom work at centralized offices like the Shared Services building at Science Park and handle the noneducational, business side of the University — has grown by 16 percent.

(Miranda Escobar, Production & Design Staff)

The centralization and staff growth were partially the work of former Yale Corporation member John Pepper ’60, then the CEO of Proctor and Gamble, who was hired as vice president for finance and administration in 2003. During his two years at Yale, Pepper sought to improve labor relations and increase racial and gender diversity among the staff. And he brought his corporate know-how to bear on Yale’s inefficient staff.

“[Pepper] immediately recognized that, compared to industry standards, everything was inefficient,” Long said. “For example, in its construction projects, Yale came in over budget and underperforming. It appeared that we needed more exacting, professional people.”

What Pepper saw when he took the role of vice president for finance and administration, Long said, was that Yale had “the best programs, the best students and the best faculty in the world, but we didn’t have the best administration.”

Pepper laid the groundwork, but more significant changes came under Shauna King. King, who was hired in 2006 to take over some of Pepper’s responsibilities as vice president for finance and business operations, came to Yale after spending most of her career at PepsiCo. As president of PepsiCo Shared Services, King united all the PepsiCo Information Technology divisions. Before centralizing the soda company, King was an accountant, working with the Frito-Lay snack food company. King’s job at Yale was her first in the academic world.

Five years into her tenure at Yale, in a 2011 interview with the Network of Executive Women, King expressed a hardline stance on reorganizing businesses.

“Look inside and have people take a meat cleaver to your processes,” she said. “You want the right people in the right seat.”

King’s primary role at Yale was to shift parts of Yale’s departmental staff — the secretaries and technology staff in each FAS department — to Shared Services, an office 1.5 miles away from central campus that consolidated work previously done by staff in each academic department. A Shared Services staff model is widespread in the private sector, used by large corporations to centralize and streamline day-to-day processes and paperwork.

In the summer of 2014, King led an initiative to reorganize another branch of the staff: Yale Dining. King created a central food-preparation center for all the dining halls that took many longtime dining hall workers out of their home kitchens and into the Culinary Support Center on Winchester Avenue near Shared Services.

“They shoved us up on the outskirts of campus in a refrigerated room, and we’re forgotten about,” one head pantry worker told the News shortly after the center’s creation.

During King’s time at Yale, the percentage of Yale’s operating budget spent on administration and institutional support jumped from 6 percent in 2006 to a high of 11 percent in 2010. King did not return multiple requests for comment, but her LinkedIn profile details how at Yale she “built a flat and self-directed workforce” and “used key performance metrics to demonstrate health of our processes.” Under her “Key Accomplishments” during the 2011 and 2015 fiscal years, King includes a “287 percent increase in staff productivity” and a “52 percent reduction in data entry turnaround time” in Yale’s Accounts Payable department.


But productivity came at a cost: face-to-face interactions between faculty and staff were replaced by emails and phone calls, and what once felt like a “Yale Family” began to resemble the streamlined structure of a business.

“The [Shared Services] initiative did significant damage to the smooth functioning of department offices, as it failed to recognize the valuable institutional knowledge held by staff in individual departments,” English professor Jill Campbell GRD ’88 told the News in June 2015.

History, African American studies and American studies professor Glenda Gilmore said Shared Services turned faculty and staff from co-workers to customers and clients.

“To talk about customers and clients is a corporate mindset that tends to erase the teaching and learning in a University,” anthropology professor William Kelly said.

In Judaic Studies, after administrators suggested relocating a senior administrative assistant to a centralized location, religious studies professor Steven Fraade said the attempt showed a lack of understanding about what makes academic departments and programs tick. For Fraade, having the staff nearby improves the general “quality of life” of the professors and students the staff serve.

“[Faculty] want to have access to their administrative staff, to see them on a daily basis, to smile at them, tell them they’re doing a good job,” he said. “Having [the assistant] down the hall from me is essential.”

Murphy acknowledged that Shared Services “got off to a rough start.”

“It came across as, ‘We’re doing this because it worked in corporate,’” Murphy said.  But these efforts were done to ease the work done by faculty and students, he added.

“Shared Services and anything else labeled as ‘corporatization’ is not the end, it’s the means to the end of providing more effective and efficient administrative support,” Murphy said. He said the growth of the staff was partly due to the growth of Yale’s clinical operations, and he noted that in terms of financial expenditures, the staff has grown less quickly relative to the rest of the University.

“Since 2001, the University has grown, stripping out inflation, in financial terms, by 82 percent,” Murphy said. “During that same period, the administration has grown more slowly than that.”

Music professor Daniel Harrison MUS ’86, who arrived at Yale in 2003 shortly before the advent of Shared Services, said the restructuring was a necessary step as the University expanded. Unlike Kelly, Harrison put minimal importance on the staff in a department’s general feel.

“It made perfect business sense and, of course, that’s what corporatism is,” Harrison said. “I was an early and outspoken proponent of Shared Services. Someone who recognized, given the financial pressures the University was facing, the need for a solution to improve efficiency and centralize the staff.”

Still, Long said that while centralization and standardization may work in a corporation, a university is a complex system of schools, departments and individuals, each with their own needs and ways of doing business.

“There’s a fundamental disparity between the corporate view of efficiency and the University’s view,” he said. “There’s no way to standardize what we do. In order to professionalize the business of a university, you need someone from the corporate world who understands all this, who also has intuition and is a good listener.”

(Miranda Escobar, Production & Design Staff)

Polak said he believes centralization can be necessary, but not in every case. While Polak acknowledged that universities across the country have been relatively slow in using new technologies to make certain processes more efficient, he also said the corporate emphasis on centralization and efficiency is not always applicable to a university setting.

“I am loudly agnostic about centralization versus decentralization,” Polak said. “I think that there are some things that work better centralized, and some things that work better decentralized, and one should do it on a case-by-case basis.”


Perhaps nowhere has the effect of the corporatization of Yale’s staff been more evident than in the University’s negotiations with its two recognized unions, Locals 34 and 35.

On March 2, when Local 34 Secretary-Treasurer Ken Suzuki walked into the lobby of 2 Whitney Grove Square, he was prohibited from moving farther than the entrance.

Suzuki was trying to deliver a petition  signed by over 2,500 union members to Polak, requesting that Yale protect the 986 clinical union jobs at the School of Medicine. To Suzuki, who has worked at Yale for over 30 years, the rebuff at the door signaled a change in how the administration manages its staff. King’s leadership, controversial though it was, brought a number of new hires to the staff; but now the administration has begun to slow that growth via a number of recent layoffs, and union leaders say University leaders have been uncommunicative.

Suzuki said the unions settled a labor contract peacefully in 2009 and again in 2012. But union leaders, who enter contract negotiations this spring, suspect that the Yale administration under University President Peter Salovey and Polak — who both took office in 2013 — is not as willing to collaborate.

Polak and Salovey announced layoffs in 2013 as part of a five-year plan to close Yale’s post-recession budget deficit. This spring, 24 staff members in Information Technology Services learned suddenly that they were being laid off to balance the University’s budget.

As explanation, Salovey, Polak and King have said that reducing the administrative staff would allow a reallocation of resources toward teaching and research. In fiscal year 2015 the University reduced administrative costs by 3 percent.

“Every dollar you spend on administration is a dollar not put toward the mission,” King told the News in 2013.

This spring, several leaders of Local 34, Yale’s union for clerical and technical workers, confronted the University about the ITS layoffs. Although it was Chief Information Officer Len Peters who announced the layoffs, Local 34 President Laurie Kennington said she believes the decision to cut costs came directly from the provost. These budget cuts, she said, forced ITS management to make layoffs.

Suzuki said administrators have made other decisions in the past three years that have caused union leaders and members to question whether the so-called “legacy of labor peace” under former-University President Richard Levin will continue under Salovey and Polak.

He pointed to the creation of the Culinary Support Center, which he said violated Local 35’s contract with the University. In September 2014, Local 35 — Yale’s blue-collar union — filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that Yale breached the union contract by failing to negotiate before changing the terms and conditions of employment for union members.

“That was a big wake-up call to Local 35 … something was amiss in the top levels of the administration,” Suzuki said. “It said to the leaders of both unions: ‘Where are we really with the new administration?’”

Shortly after Local 35 filed the complaint with the NLRB, administrators came to an agreement with the union, although plans for the culinary center went forward.

Since 2013, for the first time in the union’s decadeslong existence, Local 34’s numbers began to shrink, after years of consistent growth. As the unions enter contract negotiations with the University this spring, Suzuki said union leaders feel more distant from the current administration, suggesting to him that trends of corporatization have threatened Yale’s unions.


For faculty, corporatization means something different.

Instead of threatening their jobs, professors said, corporatization — in the form of an expanding senior administration and less engagement between the provost and Faculty of Arts and Sciences  department heads — threatens faculty empowerment.

FAS Dean Tamar Gendler said her position was actually created largely to empower the faculty. Rather than decreasing FAS professors’ access to the upper administration, Gendler said her role has given them a voice to articulate the FAS’s future.

“I no longer serve the function of being the person responsible for the day-to-day budget or the day-to-day running of the FAS,” Polak said. “Various new responsibilities grow up because of regulation, scale and new areas of focus. It’s good to have people focusing on those specific areas.”

But some professors interviewed maintained that the creation of administrative positions like Gendler’s is one of the clearest symptoms of a growing gulf between faculty and the administration. When Pepper left his role in 2006, his position was divided into three administrative titles: King became the vice president for finance and business operations, Michael Peel became the vice president for human resources and administration, and Bruce Alexander ’65 took on the role of vice president for the Office of New Haven and State Affairs. The University is currently searching for its first vice president for operations, who will supervise several administrators. In January, Salovey announced that Eileen O’Connor would take on the inaugural role of vice president for communications.

Although the Office of Institutional Research did not provide specific figures for senior administrative growth, faculty pointed to these newly created positions as examples of rapid administrative expansion.

Kelly said faculty interactions with upper-level administrators have changed during his 36 years at Yale. In the early 1990s, Kelly said, each department met individually with the provost, going through the departmental budgets line by line and making the case for each budgeted item. Gendler, not the provost, now oversees the FAS departmental budgets.

Kelly said the growth of the administration has created a buffer between the departments and the administration.

“The chain of command is longer,” he said.

For Kelly, the addition of deputy provosts and associate provosts has encumbered the administration and clouded the vision of administrative leadership — leading the provost to treat faculty and staff as numbers, not people.

“The perception is that [Polak] is very good at what he does, but he’s indirect with department chairs, much more than his predecessors,” Fraade said. “There is a sense of loss of direct engagement.”

Some faculty also pointed to new administrative structures that have sprung up over the years, in particular the host of lawyers and legal experts Yale retains to protect against lawsuits on issues ranging from sexual misconduct to racial discrimination in the University workplace. Yale’s Office of General Counsel employs 20 attorneys and seven staff members, and a branch of the Provost’s Office is tasked with managing Yale’s Title IX complaints. According to Murphy, the growth of research administration and compliance officers is the result of new federal regulations.

Gilmore said the lawyers are effective, but they also prevent the community from learning about what actually happens on campus and where certain decisions come from — adding layers of red tape and keeping details from the public eye.

“You can’t operate in a way that builds administrative layers in an effort not to get sued,” Gilmore said.


Faculty interviewed were divided over the implications of corporatization and its potential to reshape Yale’s community of academics.

Some argued that corporatization had led to poor University leadership and damaged Yale’s intellectual climate.

“At present there is not leadership, there is only administration, and it’s heavy-handed, narrow-minded and insistently micromanaged administration,” Kelly said. “And that’s been, to me, the dominant trend over the last 10 years.”

Faculty members worried that their distance from top budgetary administrators could lead to poor decisions about the allocation of academic resources. As the University has sought to balance its budget while creating more administrative positions, some faculty members say it has become more difficult for faculty to argue directly to the provost for certain budget items, as they were once able to do.

Biology professor Joel Rosenbaum felt the effects of cost-cutting when his fall 2014 electron microscopy course was cut due to reductions in the Biology Department’s budget. In a March 31, 2014 op-ed in the News entitled “Why My Class?” Rosenbaum called for Yale to stop adding new deans to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. These appointments, he argued, have bloated the administration and forced Yale to cut costs in other areas of the University.

Several recent administrative interventions in FAS departments may highlight the trend Kelly and Rosenbaum described.

In November 2015, Classics Department chair Kirk Freudenburg reported to the FAS Senate that, since 2008, the administration had used hundreds of thousands of dollars of restricted department funds for the central administrative budget. While Gendler called the use of more-restricted funds before less-restricted funds a method for “responsible stewardship” of the University, Classics professors called the reallocation of funds a “raid.”

In the realm of faculty hiring decisions, too, Gilmore said Polak and Gendler do not give FAS departments enough freedom when opening new positions. She said departments end up competing with one another to get administrative authorization to search for candidates, which can neglect the needs of individual departments.

“Corporatization is not necessarily a bad thing, if it leads to better management of the core mission,” Gilmore said. “But Yale seems to have forgotten that the University’s business is teaching, research and learning.”

According to Gilmore — who worked as a corporate officer in two publicly held companies, and was the CEO of her own start-up for two decades before entering academia — corporate attitudes have also seeped into the way administrators communicate with faculty.

The result, she said, has been a “public relations” approach, even to internal communications. Posters on campus appear extolling administrative milestones and slogans like “An excellent faculty is a diverse faculty,” Gilmore said, calling this “’80s corporate-speak.” She also criticized the strange uniformity of language in University-wide emails from the provost and president.

But others see corporatization as a force that can save Yale time and money.

(Miranda Escobar, Production & Design Staff)

Harrison said he believes corporatization allows faculty members to do their jobs better. Professors should attend to their scholarship, and business professionals should run the business side of Yale, he said.

Indeed, while Polak said he seeks to balance the number of administrators from the corporate world with those from academia, he admitted that in making provostial decisions he relies on advice from Peel, Alexander and Murphy — all of whom worked in the private sector.

“I get an enormous amount of help here,” Polak said. “I would have been absolutely lost and this University would have been a total mess if I haven’t have and continue to have the advice and knowledge of people who come from outside.”

The Music Department implemented Shared Services before many other departments, and after a few initial problems, the department now runs more smoothly and efficiently than it did before, Harrison said.

In particular, the filing of departmental expense reports, which had formerly incurred very high error rates — including misplaced numbers and inaccurate expense reporting — was made faster and more accurate under Shared Services. The move to Shared Services required a great deal of centralization, but Harrison is happy Yale made the shift.

“I think my department has been well-served,” he said.

University administrators, too, have preached efficiency and budget-balancing. Gendler noted that both Levin and Polak are economists, which has brought much-needed financial leadership to the University.

Polak said Yale has many services that are best kept centralized. For example, Polak said the office that processes work visas and green cards would not function well if it were decentralized.

Despite Gendler’s new role in the FAS, Polak said certain responsibilities pertaining to the FAS, like the planning and organization of FAS campus buildings, still rest with the provost.

And some professors disputed that corporatization has brought faculty disempowerment.

Philosophy Chair Stephen Darwall said that while Yale has not been immune from the “corporatizing pressures” affecting universities nationwide, he believes the University’s recent creation of a FAS dean position and a Faculty Senate have helped counteract those pressures.

Darwall said the new FAS dean position does not seem to be a buffer between the faculty and the provost, but rather a way to give departments greater authority over budgetary decisions than was possible when the Provost’s Office oversaw them.

Political Science Department Chair Steven Wilkinson said faculty — both at FAS Senate meetings and in monthly department chair meetings with the administration — are setting the agenda as never before.

“[Agendas] used to be set by the administration,” Wilkinson said. “The administration has become more open to faculty voices in the past few years.”

Still, Long maintained that top-level positions like the president and provost should be held by academics. The question is one of priorities, he said, adding that administrators should not rely too heavily on corporate management strategies, as the needs of the administration should always come second to the teaching and research mission of the University.

“The person making those very important allocation decisions, the person at the head of the table, ought to be an academic person,” Long said. “It’s a university after all.”


For all the debate about corporatization, Murphy challenged the idea that Yale is intentionally creating ruthless corporate structures.

“Administrators are not here to make [Yale] the most efficient place on the planet,” said Murphy. “Sometimes we need more administrators and sometimes we don’t. Our job is to find out just the right balance.”

Still, according to Freddie DeBoer, a writer and teacher at Purdue University whose work touches on higher education policy, corporatization at universities is a national trend.

DeBoer attributed the growth of administrative departments to a market-based approach to institutions. The idea that a college or university should be run the same way as a corporation, he said, creates a “business, capitalist philosophy.”

Corporatization can be seen in terms of changing power structures, he explained. In the past few decades, universities have given more power and responsibility to central administrative authorities.

“Particularly troublingly, you have this ‘mushrooming effect’ of more and more administrators who are ordered to enforce that top-down mission,” DeBoer said. “So you hire more and more people whose job it is to look after minor elements of campus life that used to be left up to instructors or individual departments.”

Joseph Grasso, Cornell University’s associate dean for finance, administration and corporate relations, said higher education is going through a transformative period, with  universities trying to become more efficient by bringing corporate models to bear on educational structures.

“We’re trying to find a way to deliver high-quality services at an accessible price,” Grasso said. “[These demands] change the type of leadership and the type of management that are needed by a university.”

And while the Ivy League has resisted some of the more extreme kinds of corporatization, other universities have adopted the corporate model so intensely that their presidents call themselves “CEOs,” Grasso said. Boards of trustees are increasingly populated by the heads of industries and companies, who often influence university administrative decisions.

“We’re in a pressure-cooker environment in higher education,” Grasso said. “All of these pressures have been leading to, or fostering, the corporatization of higher education.”


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