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University Job Descriptions Get a Rewrite

New definitions won’t cut positions or pay


Peter Fiedler, vice president for administrative services, says the University’s current job description and classification system breeds inefficiency and makes for less secure records. Photo by Fred Sway

BU’s job descriptions and classification system, a hangover from the Reagan era, is showing its age. Records are variously stored on paper, MS Word documents, or PDF files, and there is no central warehouse.

“I actually believe there may be some clay tablets somewhere,” Peter Fiedler, vice president for administrative services, said tongue in cheek at the 2010 Management Conference March 4. The system breeds inefficiency and makes for less secure records, Fiedler (COM’77) told a packed crowd in the George Sherman Union’s Metcalf Hall.

Hence the simple crux of the dauntingly titled Human Resources Organizational Readiness Project: rewrite job descriptions and classifications for 6,500 positions in all departments at the Charles River and Medical Campuses. The project does not include faculty, “who are different kinds of employees and whose terms of appointment are covered by the Faculty Handbook,” says Hannelore Glaser, associate provost for finance and administration.

The rewrite is part of BUworks, a multiyear project to modernize and streamline the University’s computerized systems for budgeting, payroll, procurement, and human resources. A new jobs system is essential to the overall effort, Fiedler said — without it, “we would be working basically with a broken leg,” hindering the effectiveness of BUworks.

The new job descriptions will be stored in a software system created by SAP, the company chosen to implement BUworks, and “will provide all employees and managers with a clearer understanding of job structures and career paths,” says Karen Antman, Medical Campus provost and dean of the School of Medicine.

A central electronic warehouse, according to Fiedler, will permit on-demand retrieval of job information; satisfy government regulators seeking consistent, transparent information; is more secure than a piece of paper; will clarify expected job responsibilities; and will lend uniformity to job descriptions and classifications across both campuses. Administrators will be able to tell, for example, if pay for a new hire or an existing job “fits in the local marketplace and job environment in total,” he said.

Given what Joseph Mercurio, BU’s executive vice president, called the two sacrosanct parts of an employee’s life — parking and job description — he warned that anxiety about the project was inevitable. Fiedler agreed, stressing, “Nobody’s job will be eliminated or salary decreased as a result of this process.”

The project is managed by the University’s Human Resources office, with assistance from Sibson Consulting. Between now and October, departments will review jobs, do necessary rewrites, and submit them electronically to a database. Sibson will then analyze the information and formalize a jobs structure to plug into SAP. The Human Resources Web site will feature a new section with updates on the project, which will run through April 2011.

The new jobs system is in keeping with President Robert A. Brown’s strategic plan and its emphasis on what Fiedler called “operational excellence.” Addressing the conference, Brown said that this project and BUworks generally will help erode barriers between BU’s campuses, and he invoked the long-standing joke about BU being “the first two letters in bureaucracy.”

“We have to somehow expunge that from the vocabularies of our students and staff,” said Brown, “without changing our name.”

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.


3 Comments on University Job Descriptions Get a Rewrite

  • Anonymous on 03.10.2010 at 9:49 am

    First to letters of bureaucracy

    That will be the day when BU isn’t associated with bureaucracy. To bad I won’t see it before my graduation.

  • Anonymous on 03.10.2010 at 10:43 am

    First two letters?

    Another interpretation of BU is that it stands for the first two letters of “buck”. Various constituencies have different intepretations of this (tuition, someone else’s salary, entrepreneurialism, etc) but perhaps we can all agree that the University has a long tradition of financial stability, and a recent transparency about how that is accomplished.

  • Anonymous on 03.10.2010 at 1:47 pm

    And why not change our name? It certainly would reduce the confusion with Boston College and the perception that we are a public school.

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