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Communication, ideas vital in administrative project

May 8, 2007 By Dennis Chaptman

From her days as a Chadbourne Hall house fellow, Alice Gustafson learned to face the challenge of marshaling energy and enthusiasm to build the future.

Through the years, Gustafson’s role has morphed from helping guide fellow students to helping run University Housing as assistant director of administration to a new post as leader of a campuswide project to map the future of how the university conducts its business.

“I wanted to test the waters and reinvent myself, challenge myself to see a broader view of the university,” says Gustafson, project leader of the Administrative Process Redesign Project.

Just as she did as a house fellow in the 1970s, the new project requires Gustafson to communicate, establish mutual respect, and harness energy and ideas. Only now, it’s on a much more complex level.

The collaborative project is bringing together faculty, classified staff, academic staff and students to create new, streamlined systems based on campus needs, best practices and data analysis.

Teams will develop new ways to administer functions such as human resources, information technology, grants administration, other business functions and possibly facilities issues in academic units.

Gustafson, a Neenah native who double-majored in journalism and psychology and earned her law degree here, says the complexity of the project is daunting — but the pool of volunteers and expertise is deep and broad.

“It’s complicated, and communication is a challenge, but it really has been more that this is an incredible place with very interesting and talented people,” she says. “Most of us don’t have a chance to gain that perspective because we are busy in our own daily worlds and stay within our circle of contacts. I’ve been impressed that when we have reached out to campus to talk about the project, campus has responded with enthusiasm and energy.”

More than 200 people have already volunteered to help advance the project, and hundreds have attended brown-bag sessions explaining the project’s goals.

There has been some skepticism about the project, with fear in some quarters that it could lead to job cuts. But both Gustafson and Vice Chancellor Darrell Bazzell say that efficient systems and processes are the aim of the project — not the elimination of jobs.

“There were a lot of rumors about this project, and it felt threatening to some. But as we’ve explained the project and sought involvement from the entire campus, I’ve sensed a growing comfort level,” Gustafson says. “We want to lift the project to a point where everyone can see the gain.”

Bazzell says Gustafson is a veteran administrator who is suited for the job.

“Alice knows the campus, is a skilled communicator and knows how to tap into others’ expertise,” Bazzell says. “She also recognizes the importance of growing this project from the grassroots level and involving the entire campus.”

Gustafson says she has focused on building a project that is respectful of all campus stakeholders.

“It’s important to listen to the campus and conceive a project along with people’s feedback,” she says.

The Administrative Process Redesign Project is expected to take at least two years to accomplish, and teams will be formed this summer to begin examining issues and solutions.

Pushing the changes are workforce trends and new technologies. Gustafson says that the project comes at an opportune time, because 40 percent of the people engaged in the work are due to retire in the next five years.

That, plus evolving technology, means that many of the ways that the campus conducts business today will not be sustainable in the long haul.

The project will develop a menu of administrative service options flexible enough to serve the range of needs in UW–Madison’s schools, colleges and divisions.

Gustafson, who is on loan from University Housing, says the upside for the new project is unlimited.

“It was always easy for me to embrace the mission of University Housing, because it made a significant difference in the success of students,” she says. “This project has a similar power. It will capture ideas to change the future of how people conduct business, and how efficiently the campus operates.”