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UT Faculty, Staff, Students Fight Back Against Job-Killing Shared Services Initiative

by: Katie Singh

Wed Jan 22, 2014 at 00:00 PM CST

Last week, BOR brought attention to UT's proposed Shared Services Initiative. The program is part of the broader was part of the broader business productivity initiative at UT, which aims to restructure large portions of university services to function more like a business, shifting focus from education to profitability in the face of shrinking state funding. The Shared Services initiative is a proposal to reorganize several university services, eliminating 500 jobs and leave students and faculty without crucial support they need.

Faculty and students have voiced major concerns with the Shared Services proposal. Now, opposition has gotten stronger and more organized. The Texas State Employees Union (TSEU), which represents about 20% of the UT staff, has put together a petition against the Shared Services initiative. The petition has over 100 signatures so far, and TSEU has been continuing to collect more from UT staff and students both online and on-campus.

Read the text of the petition after the jump.

The TSEU petition resembles the effort seen at the University of Michigan, another school that had proposed a Shared Services initiative. After facing major outcry on campus, including a petition that was signed by over 1,000 faculty members, administrators announced they would delay implementation of the plan and ask faculty members for their input on the proposal. The TSEU is hoping to organize a similar petition and response at the University of Texas.

This petition comes after news that the Shared Services steering committee will start to hear recommendations for the implementation of a Shared Services pilot program this month. UT spokesman Kevin Almasy told The Daily Texan that the pilot program "would take place in small-scale University departments on a volunteer basis to accommodate for some of the apprehension voiced in dialogue sessions. " The Shared Services pilot program is a modification to the original campus-wide implementation plan. Almasy acknowledged that many on campus were opposed to Shared Services, explaining to The Daily Texan that "As campus dialogue progressed, it became clear that there was an understanding for the rationale behind Shared Services, but that there was not a willingness for campus-wide implementation." The Shared Services steering committee plans to present the findings from the pilot program to UT President Bill Powers in February.

The steering committee acknowledging the widespread opposition is a start, but barely addresses the wider concerns with the Shared Services initiative. Among the concerns voiced in the TSEU petition are the number of layoffs, a lack of transparency in the development of the Shared Services plan, and the involvement of consulting firm Accenture, which has a history of botched implementation of its projects in several states. The full text of the TSEU petition is below:

We, the undersigned faculty, staff, students, and alumni of the University of Texas at Austin ask that the University administration halt the Draft Shared Services Plan including the "pilot."

1. It displaces staff failing to recognize the essential role that they play in the day to day work as knowledgeable co-workers in colleges and departments.  Some staff will lost their jobs and some will be reassigned to a centralized work pool isolated from faculty and students.  The result will be less quality in services for both faculty and students and degradation of jobs for staff;

2. It leads to the reduction in University staffing by at least 500 jobs in four specified areas: Human Resources, Information Technologies, Financial Operations, and Procurement.  Further phases will continue staff downsizing and also look at the privatization and outsourcing of housing, food service, custodial, grounds, and maintenance departments. The overall intent as stated in "Transforming UT: The Business Productivity Initiative" is to eliminate 20 to 25 percent of the jobs at UT - up to 4,000 in the next 5 years.  This amounts to an attack on some of the lowest paid and most important workers in the City who will lose wages, benefits, and security;

3. There has been no sustained consideration of options for greater quality other than job elimination.  The unsupported claims of a need for austerity (on-going since the 1990's) have suppressed new and creative ideas of how to move this public institution to greater service of its core missions of education and research without downsizing, privatization, and outsourcing;

4. The involvement of the consultant firm Accenture, given their history of failure and fraud in Texas, Colorado, Florida, Kansas, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Ohio, Arkansas, and Connecticut (which sued Accenture for negligence, breach of contract and an "unfathomable violation of information security") is ethically and practically unacceptable; and

5. The University has not been forthcoming with credible financial information supporting the plan and detailing its consequences.  The Draft Shared Services Plan used as the basis for campus discussion describes a large investment expected to pay back on Year 6.  However the projection underestimates the investment by $60 to $80 million and overestimates the number of jobs eliminated in a very short time (433 full time staff within the next two years).   Correcting these mistakes, actual savings will not occur until at least 10 years from now, if then.

You can learn more about Shared Services and UT's Business Productivity initiative here. If you're a UT student, alum, faculty member, or staff member who is opposed to Shared Services, you can voice your opposition by signing the petition here.

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