by Donna C. Gregory
Dr. Maurice W. Scherrens admits he’s not a typical chief financial officer. His title at George Mason University is actually senior vice president. “Most of my attention is spent on allocation of resources,” says Scherrens, adding that accounting is more the province of the university controller.
Scherrens oversees an annual operating budget of more than $900 million, but probably even more important is the human capital he manages. “In a university, [there’s often] folks with their own agendas and ways to do things, and to get them to recognize that there’s a common goal is a major accomplishment, and he does that,” says Tom Hennessey, George Mason’s chief of staff.
In pulling people together, Scherrens likely helped GMU achieve the No. 1 spot in U.S. News & World Report’s list of “Up and Coming University to Watch” last fall. “We’ve always been known as the up-and-coming university,” says Scherrens. “One of the biggest feelings of satisfaction is when you have an academic program that breaks into the top 50 nationally.”
When Scherrens joined George Mason in 1977, it was a commuter school with just 5,000 students. Today, it offers more than 160 degree programs to 31,000 students. “We were never supposed to have a law school, and we found a way to do so. We were never supposed to give doctoral degrees, and we found a way to do so. It hasn’t been the same place two years in a row,” says Scherrens.
Recent years have presented some of the toughest financial challenges for Scherrens. State funding has been cut by 15 percent during the past three years, and another cut is likely this year. Some services, like grounds and maintenance, have been cut, while class sizes and tuition have been increased. “It’s a balancing act. The most important thing is to make sure the experience in the classroom is at the level it needs to be,” says Scherrens.
To improve efficiency, George Mason has become known for outsourcing services. “We have a culture that is all about the search for best practices, and we have a national reputation for outsourcing and partnering when it makes sense,” says Scherrens.
He has written a book titled “Agile Archers & Moving Targets” to help other educational institutions learn the pros and cons of outsourcing. “Agile Archers” has become the nationwide gold standard for colleges and universities considering outsourcing.
One of Scherrens’ special interests is intercollegiate sports. His work has led to the addition of many sports facilities at George Mason. He also teaches sports ethics at GMU as an adjunct professor and referees football games on weekends.
“It’s a great way to relieve some stress and have about half the people boo every call you make and half the people applaud all the calls you make,” says Scherrens. “That’s who I am away from the office.”
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