University News

Leaving legacy, Huidekoper hands over U. finances to Chernow

Senior administrator has seen University through new initiatives, economic recession over 12 years

Staff Writer
Thursday, January 22, 2015

Updated January 26, 2015 at 12:23 a.m.

Nestled in the West Wing of University Hall, Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Elizabeth ‘Beppie’ Huidekoper has spent the past 12 years overseeing the University’s finances, facilities and human resources.

After a 33-year career in higher education, Huidekoper will step down from her current role next month. Her successor Barbara Chernow ’79 comes to College Hill from Stony Brook University, where she has served as senior vice president for administration since 2012.

“Life is short and I want to try something different,” Huidekoper told The Herald.

The executive vice president of finance and administration’s influence extends to almost every facet of campus life, encompassing workers’ contract negotiations, capital projects and decisions on raising the cost of tuition.

Before coming to College Hill, Huidekoper served as vice president for finance at Harvard starting in 1996. Her work at Harvard focused on risk management. She was responsible for maintaining campus safety, as well as managing grants and the endowment.

Huidekoper said she came to Brown because she “wanted the integrated position” of overseeing multiple administrative priorities. The University’s emphasis on community engagement also attracted her to the role, she said.

Harvard has “that Vatican-like feel, in a non-religious way,” Huidekoper said. Brown “is sort of like an urban church rather than the Vatican.”

A decade of decisions

Huidekoper’s arrival at the University in October 2002 coincided with the unveiling of former President Ruth Simmons’ Plan for Academic Enrichment. The PAE called for the addition of 100 new faculty members and the transition to universal need-blind admission, though this second goal was not fully realized.

Huidekoper “was a vital part of planning and executing that growth,” President Christina Paxson P’19 told The Herald.

The University has implemented new business systems and data systems during Huidekoper’s tenure, Paxson said. In July 2012, Brown was the first among peer institutions to introduce Workday, a cloud-based human resources system.

“We took on the risk of being the guinea pig university,” Huidekoper said. “It gives Brown and my successor an incredible new tool that we hope will last another 20-something years.”

“I would give (Huidekoper) a significant amount of credit” for expanding financial aid and implementing other projects despite the University’s relatively low endowment, said Gregory Chatzinoff ’15, a student representative on the University Resources Committee.

“Before she came, the campus was in much, much worse condition.”

But Huidekoper’s tenure was not without challenges.

Along with the rest of the nation, the University was affected by the economic recession that started in 2007, with the endowment suffering a loss of $740 million — about a 27 percent drop ­— in 2009.

In response to the recession, the University froze all salaries and hirings, with the exception of Department of Public Safety officers, Huidekoper said. An Organizational Review Committee formed in 2008 and was responsible for making recommendations to achieve $14 million in savings.

During that time, the University offered a voluntary early retirement program that around 139 employees accepted, Huidekoper said, adding that some whose positions were eliminated found jobs in different departments.

Huidekoper “steered the University through the financial crisis,” Paxson said.

Under scrutiny

While Huidekoper has been credited with overseeing several positive developments, she has at times found herself at the center of controversy. Last summer, she faced criticism for the decision to outsource mailroom operations to office technology company Ricoh USA, after which nine mailroom employees were laid off.

“All we needed was newer technology and (Huidekoper) chose to outsource the mailroom,” said Jesus Sanchez, a unionized mailroom driver who kept his job.

Sanchez said Huidekoper should have scrutinized the possibility of outsourcing more carefully before recommending it.

“It’s true Beppie’s office did the analysis and developed the recommendation that it made sense for Brown to outsource the mailroom,” Paxson said. “Ultimately, I make those decisions.”

“To us, it doesn’t necessarily matter who that individual administrator is,” said Student Labor Alliance member Stoni Tomson ’15. “It’s the whole system here that’s looking to maximize profits on the backs of workers.”

“I still feel it was the right decision, ultimately,” Huidekoper said. The nature of mail services is rapidly changing as students receive significantly more packages, and Ricoh has experience dealing with these changes at other institutions, she said.

“In terms of implementing it, I didn’t give that enough time,” she added.

Huidekoper “has always been incredibly responsive to any kind of student concern,” said UCS President Maahika Srinivasan ’15. “In this particular issue, the student side of this wasn’t connected to her as well as it should have been.”

Back to school

“I want someone who will always be asking the question ‘What is best for Brown?’” Paxson said of the role of executive vice president for finance and administration. Both Huidekoper and her successor share this mission, Paxson said.

Chernow was a good candidate for the position because she “really loves this university” and is a Brown alum, Paxson said. “Even if she had no previous connection to Brown, her experience is incredible.”

Chernow said she is excited to return to her alma mater, where she has “firsthand” knowledge of the undergraduate experience.

She has served as senior vice president for administration at Stony Brook since 2012. Prior to that, she worked at the New York City School Construction Authority.

While at Stony Brook, Chernow worked closely with community members to make a variety of changes to make the university’s operations more efficient, Chernow said. She changed the facilities master plan by “meeting with students and faculty and staff to find out what they need their buildings to do” and created more recreation fields and soccer fields as a result, she said.

Additionally, two dining halls were renovated and the meal plan was altered to include food trucks, faster service and foods from a wider variety of cultures under her tenure, she added.

“Great institutions work well when people work together in teams,” Chernow said.

Successful succession?

Before she officially assumes her duties in March, Chernow will travel to Brown to attend the February Corporation meeting, at which the budget and tuition and fees for fiscal year 2016 will be approved, Huidekoper said.

Attending the Corporation meeting will further acquaint Chernow with the University’s financial needs and priorities, Huidekoper said.

The structural deficit in the operating budget grew to $8.7 million in fiscal year 2014 and is projected to remain relatively stable for the upcoming fiscal year.

Though “responsibility for handling the deficit falls to (the provost),” Chernow will focus on increasing the efficiency of operations and moving the University to a new sustainable economic model, Paxson said.

This will mean growing revenue streams and increasing the University’s capacity as a research institution, Paxson said. Chernow will also work to implement recommendations from the Deficit Reduction Working Group that formed in October 2014, she added.

Moving to a new economic model will “drive confidence in the University and help us raise funds in a way that grows the endowment,” Paxson said. Though the endowment now stands at a record-high value of $3.2 billion, Brown has the smallest endowment in the Ivy League.

Chernow also comes to the University amidst preparations for the launch of a capital campaign in October 2015 that will aim to finance initiatives in Paxson’s strategic plan, “Building on Distinction.”

Huidekoper’s role in preparing for the campaign is part of a “team effort,” Paxson said. Huidekoper is currently working with Provost Vicki Colvin and Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy Russell Carey ’91 MA’06 to break down the plan’s initiatives into components that require funding, she said.

“It’s not like if Beppie walks out the door it will come to a halt,” Paxson said. But “it will take Barbara a little while to learn what our objectives are and what they mean in concrete detail.”

“My goal is to find out what Brown needs and what the priorities are” in relation to the campaign, Chernow said.

While Huidekoper said she is “looking into different options” for how to spend her retirement, she has already booked a plane ticket to Thailand for the days following her departure.

Huidekoper leaves her successor with a suggestion: “Enjoy it — it’s a great place.”

An earlier version of this article stated that Barbara Chernow ’79 worked at the New York City School Construction Authority prior to serving as Stony Brook University’s senior vice president for administration in 2012. While Chernow was employed by the NYCSCA before joining Stony Brook in 1998, she held a number of jobs at Stony Brook between 1998 and 2012.

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