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Consulting firm or not, faculty want a say in AST

By Stephanie Shenouda, Daily Staff Reporter
Published December 9, 2013

The last meeting for the Senate Assembly’s calendar year brought about 60 faculty members to Palmer Commons Monday afternoon. Ultimately, the group decided to endorse two resolutions related to the Administrative Services Transformation initiative that the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs drafted at their meeting last week.

To start off the meeting, SACUA chair Karen Staller provided a timeline for the University’s actions leading up to the AST, beginning with the use of Hackett consulting company in 2009. Hackett conducted a survey and analyzed data before suggesting the AST and IT Rationalization as potential cost management strategies by consolidating staff positions found to be redundant.

Discussing AST, Staller acknowledged that the University is experiencing “tough times of belt tightening” and that the painless parts of budget cuts, or “low-hanging fruit” like consolidating information technology, have already been implemented. She added that even after the administration officially postponed any AST-related action until April of next year, the faculty still has concerns about the program’s transparency and who makes the final decisions.

“Last week the provost told the deans of all the schools to talk with their faculty (about AST), and we had our meeting in Social Work on Wednesday,” she said.

This comes after department heads were originally told not to discuss changes with affected staff members—characterized by some as a gag order—which caused rumors and fears to grow about the AST initiative.

The first resolution addressed the AST process, criticizing the use of an outside consulting firm — Accenture LLP — and claimed there was not “a meaningful participation of and evaluation by the faculty, resulting in inadequate consideration of the consequences and effects of this program.”

The Senate Assembly endorsed the “suspension of the implementation of AST until its impact on the educational and teaching missions of the University can be fully considered and properly evaluated in light of the diverse and often specialized needs of various academic disciplines and units across campus.”

This resolution was passed unanimously, leading into a discussion about the University’s use of consulting firms. The resolution — drafted by SACUA and eventually passed with 36 in favor, three opposed and one abstention — asserted that the “tens of millions of dollars” spent on outside consulting firms was unnecessary because “the University is a preeminent institution employing faculty with international expertise in fields including business, finance, information technologies, organizations and education.”

After the resolution passed, the board formally advised that any further use of external consulting companies should be supplemented by input from faculty who have expertise in targeted initiatives.

At the next meeting, scheduled for Jan. 9, 2014 members will hear from University Provost Martha Pollack about the administration’s views on the events of the past few months.