The University of Michigan recently hosted a $750,000 party to kick-off a fundraising drive.

Yet, administrators are now attempting to reign in costs by slashing millions on staff expenses. Ry Rivard of Inside Higher Ed reports the push-back from faculty members and other challenges in implementing a plan that is also being used at other institutions.

Administrators at the University of Michigan had an idea: pluck 275 staffers out of their current offices scattered across campus, move them into a single building on the edge of town, increase their productivity and, voila, save $17 million.

So far, the plan has a hit a few snags.

For one thing, department chairs were kept in the dark about the effort and then given what faculty members have described as “gag orders” to prevent them from talking about it. Now professors and graduate students are speaking out publicly, and it’s clear they are unhappy about losing staff members with familiar faces from down the hall to an off-campus facility.

For another, the plan is no longer expected to save nearly as much as once hoped: just $2 million or $3 million in its first year and $5 to $6 million per year in the near term, according to a university spokesman.

…The idea is simple. Instead of each academic department having its own staff to handle bookkeeping, departments should rely on a pool of staffers. The theory is each of the employees in the pool could specialize in quickly dealing with certain paperwork instead of trying to be jacks-of-all-trades in departments across campus. One staff member would get really good at travel reimbursements, for instance, while another focuses on payroll.

But it’s not unusual for the projects to meet some opposition.

“Did it go very well at the start?” said Ronn Kolbash, Yale’s assistant vice president of shared services. “No.”

But Kolbash, who worked on bringing shared services to Ohio state government, said the goal is for organizations to save money on processing paperwork so they have more money to spend on the things they exist to do.

“The State of Ohio doesn’t exist to pay bills,” he said.

The same goes for universities, which are — it’s no secret — facing budget crunches of their own.

“When attempting to address those budget deficits and make unfortunate but necessary cuts, one of the things you look at is, how do you preserve the mission of the university, the teaching and research and what we’ll call the practice of the university?” Kolbash said.

Michigan officials, who are trying to patch holes in their budget from a decline in state support, admit they got off to a rocky start with faculty members as they rolled out their shared services plan.