Academic journal article SRA Journal

A New Paradigm for Departmental Administrative Reorganization

Academic journal article SRA Journal

A New Paradigm for Departmental Administrative Reorganization

Article excerpt


Few things are more sacrosanct than departmental autonomy. Despite this, many factors within and outside academic institutions make it compelling for departments with common administrative functions to cooperate and, in appropriate cases, to consolidate these functions. The eight preclinical departments at Johns Hopkins have entered into an effort to systematically centralize and enhance selected, shared services. This is a case report on the first jointly established administrative service.


There are eight preclinical departments at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, including Biological Chemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Biophysics and Biophysical Chemistry, Cell Biology and Anatomy, Molecular Biology and Genetics, Neuroscience, Pharmacology and Molecular Sciences, and Physiology. Basic research and education are the primary focus f these departments. In fiscal year 1997, the annual sponsored research programs of the basic sciences totaled $46 million. Of this, 79 percent was in the form of individual R01 awards from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In the face of a more competitive environment for federal research funding since 1990 (Katz, 1995; Horton, 1995), NIH awards to the basic science departments have grown an average of 8 percent per year over the last five years.

The traditional revenues that support research, patient care and teaching at academic medical institutions, such as Johns Hopkins, include direct awards for the cost of research, indirect cost recovery from federal research grants and clinical practice earnings (Pardes, 1994). Health care reform has made it more difficult for academic health centers to provide clinical care competitively. Such centers are inherently expensive because of costs associated with specialty health care, biomedical research and teaching (Igelhart, 1995). Consequently these academic institutions are facing increasing pressure to reduce costs of medical care, shorten hospital visits and increase outpatient treatment (Igelhart, 1995). This reduction in clinical revenues may significantly diminish the funds available to invest in research and teaching (Rich, 1994). This co-investment (e.g., for pilot studies, lab renovations, bridging funds, etc.) is essential for maintaining vigorous growth. Within the last several years, Johns Hopkins has experienced the impact of managed care. In response, the medical center has undertaken organizational restructuring, cost-cutting mandates and expansion of health care provider networks.

An additional complication is that in 1993 the NIH eliminated all administrative support from the direct cost category on individual research grants (OMB Circular A-21, Section F.6.b, July 26, 1993). As a result of this 1993 federal policy mandate, expenses associated with administering these grants were to be absorbed by unchanged indirect cost rates.(1) Furthermore, no compensatory increases were made to basic science department budgets from the administration to cover those costs.

With a steady growth in research programs in the basic science departments and shrinking resources to administer the research, the basic science administrators concluded that it was necessary to work together to address the administrative needs of the research Faculty. In 1995, the eight preclinical administrators met to examine their administrative operations. They reviewed each department's organizational structure, administrative staff and the coordination of departmental administrative responsibilities. From this and subsequent discussions, it became apparent that there were redundancies in some areas of department administration. Closer examination of these redundancies became the primary focus of the administrators.


Survey of Needs

From the eight department administrators, a working group of four was formed. At its first meeting, the group ascertained which redundant administrative functions might be centralized. …

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