In June 2020, we sent to faculty the USFA survey report on administrative practices at USask, which included faculty experiences with CONCUR, UNIVRS, Connection Point, IT and computer services, and Pcards. The response rate was high with nearly half the USFA membership responding. The report and a summary of the results can be found here. In addition, since January 2022, the USFA has collected more than 50 stories from faculty on their experiences with administrative processes.
We have followed up with university administration on many of the concerns that have been identified. The USFA Grievance Committee and USFA representatives from the Joint Committee for the Management of the Agreement met together with the Joint Grievance Committee and our concerns were presented to senior administrators responsible for some administrative processes. A link to that presentation can be found here. University administration is responding with three presentations (one is still pending). Here we report back on the university’s position regarding Concur, approved-travel reimbursements, and making travel arrangements outside of Direct Travel.
These administrative processes and management of corresponding delivery platforms are all under the umbrella of the office of VP-Finance* Greg Fowler. Present from his office were:
· A-VP Cheryl Carver (People and Resources), who retired June 30th
· A-VP Wade Epp (Services), and who is now also Interim A-VP People and Resources
· Director Richard Leblanc (Enterprise Procurement)
· Director Colin Weimer (Employee and Labour Relations)
· Director Gary Brunet (IT Support Services)
· Director Jae-Anne Peace (Connection Point)
*The full organizational chart for VP-Finance can be found here.
Apparently, the university has contracted with service providers to receive some services more cheaply. There is nothing to show that efficient use of faculty time was a consideration, or that faculty were consulted, when service providers and platforms were chosen.
In our presentation we addressed several common problems caused by having to work through Concur and Direct Travel, including:
· Cheaper travel arrangements can be made outside of Concur and Direct Travel
· Field research related travel cannot be booked thought Direct Travel and should be exempt (this includes travel to remote locations without infrastructure, banks, airstrips, roads, and require a variety of private arrangements)
· People needing to travel with family or dependents cannot book easily through the platform
· Travel agents at Direct Travel are less experienced than some faculty making their own arrangements
· Cheaper and smaller airlines are not supported
· Points from travel cannot be redeemed for research travel but goes to the university
· Travel disruptions, especially on complicated trips, need to be addressed at the airport in person, and cannot be made through Direct Travel by waiting on the phone
· Direct Travel bookings often take more time and produce less optimal arrangements
Through its own user surveys, university administration finds that, overall, faculty are dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with Concur and Direct Travel, and in-house research by Richard Leblanc indicates faculty are confused about the difference in prices once taxes are included in the final price (a conclusion with which we strongly disagree).
University administrators proposed solutions, including:
· Considering the development of an alternative process to support research and remote location flight booking
· Developing a Knowledge Base article regarding how to update personal preferences in Concur to ensure maximum search results
· Making improvements to after-hour, last-minute, and flight-change services through Direct Travel
· Reviewing hospitality and travel expense guidelines to ensure they reflect the current environment and needs
· Looking into a Duty of Care program through Direct Travel
· Examining the integration of the PCard and Travel Card programs
However, the actions that they have committed to are not in line with what faculty are telling us they need. Administrators have indicated they appreciate the dialogue, but firm commitments to meet our requests have not been made.
We will continue our dialogue with administrators from the VP-Finance’s office regarding Concur/Direct Travel but at this point, we must provide evidence that significantly cheaper travel plans can be made without Direct Travel, and that university policy is preventing us from using our research grants economically and efficiently. To do this we need your assistance. When you make travel arrangements, obtain a screen capture of what you find on the Concur platform or with Direct Travel, and a screen capture of what you find on other platforms. To obtain a screen capture:
Press at the same time:
PC: the “windows” button + shift + s
Mac: shift + command + 3
Select the part of the screen you need, then paste this into the email text.
If you provide evidence of cheaper airfare found on other websites to Direct Travel, the lower price may be matched. Also, if you are having trouble with travel costs, you must inform your Dean or Director, and ask that the issue be raised at Dean’s Council meetings.