With a new president at the helm, the University of Kentucky will pay a Chicago-based consulting firm $285,000 to re-examine the school's long-term goals — set during rosier financial times — and suggest efficiencies.
Results from the study conducted by Huron Consulting Group will be considered during a UK Board of Trustees retreat with new president Eli Capilouto in October.
"The reality today is that while many of our dreams and aspirations for UK and Kentucky tomorrow have not changed, the underlying economic, social and technological conditions have," said Capilouto, who took office July 1.
The campus must talk about "how we can be creative in finding new paths to progress together," he said.
The study is expected to provide information on how UK can operate more efficiently, review the school's Top 20 business plan and figure out where UK stands relative to other public universities.
New faculty trustee Irina Voro questioned the expenditure, which she first heard about from a reporter.
"Why not ask UK faculty experts first before hiring outside consultants?" she asked. "UK faculty and staff do not lack expertise or common sense in most areas related to UK business. Perhaps our bloated administration does?"
Hiring one consultant might not seem like a big deal, but those types of administrative expenditures add up, she said, and "pretty soon we are talking real money that we can't seem to find for things truly related to education."
UK spokesman Jay Blanton said Huron would conduct extensive analysis that puts UK's status into a national perspective.
The company is being asked "to quickly analyze the strategic initiatives we have in place, measure our progress with those plans, and provide feedback and input about how we can build on the strong foundation we've established the last several years," he said.
The Top 20 business plan, a road map created in 2005 to propel UK toward Top 20 public research university status, was a cornerstone of UK's planning under the administration of then-president Lee T. Todd Jr.
During public forums before Capilouto was named president in May, Capilouto said he wanted UK to have big goals. But speaking specifically about the goal of becoming a Top 20 university, he said that UK "may not get there in our lifetimes."
Trustees chairman Britt Brockman of Louisville called the study's $285,000 price tag "a reasonable amount of money for the amount of information."
Northern Kentucky University recently paid $400,000 to the same consultant, Brockman said. NKU spokesman Chris Cole confirmed the contract and said the amount was slightly more than $400,000.
Cole described the study as "pretty comprehensive," including material on procurement practices, organizational effectiveness and cost-reduction opportunities.
Huron also has worked for clients including the University of Wisconsin, where it charged hourly rates of $175 to $272 an hour. In April, Kansas University gave Huron a $2.28 million contract, to be paid with private funds, to identify cost savings and review administrative practices.
Payment for the UK contract will come from university funds, Blanton said. Huron will provide a four-person team to gather data and complete the study, according to the contract.
Huron was founded in 2002 by two dozen partners from the folded accounting firm Arthur Andersen. In December, it agreed to settle a securities lawsuit for $38 million. The settlement included no admission of wrongdoing.
Trustee Billy Joe Miles of Owensboro said the study was vital to the university, which will be a key player in helping Kentucky's economy recover from the continuing recession.
He said UK needs to spend the right amount of money to get a clear vision of its role in that process.
"If we're going to plan, I don't think we need to save," Miles said. "We need the best."