By Sam Gringlas, Daily Staff Reporter
Published December 2, 2013
After weeks of faculty outcry, a stack of letters from University departments and a petition signed by more than 1,000 faculty members, University administrators announced Monday they would delay the planned transition to a Shared Services Center.
The Shared Services Center, a component of the Administrative Services Transformation initiative, was designed to consolidate some University departmental staff in a central service center, a move estimated to save the University about $5 million annually.
In response to concerns regarding the project’s transparency and implications for University departments, the University announced that all staff moves would be delayed until after April, the period originally slated for staffing transitions.
University Provost Martha Pollack; E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life; and Timothy Slottow, executive vice president and chief financial officer, wrote in the letter the administration plans to immediately involve faculty in reevaluating the structure of the shared services program.
By including faculty, the administrators wrote that they hope to create a shared services program that “is structured to meet the needs of our faculty and our students while achieving necessary cost savings.”
The letter noted that the decision to delay AST’s implementation was made in consultation with University President Mary Sue Coleman.
Under the plan, each school and college would work with their faculty to determine the best steps to proceed with AST. However, the University will go ahead with plans to hold job preference interviews with staff originally set to transfer to the new center.
University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said the letter gets across that the University has opted to take the time to consider alternative structures.
Engineering Prof. Fawwaz Ulaby, who authored the petition, said the University’s announcement shows the faculty has gotten the attention of the administration.
However, he added that the University’s response does nothing but delay the eventual AST implementation.
Ulaby said the University should be terminating AST before forming committees to study the best direction for University cost containment.
“The fundamental problem is AST is flawed and bad for the campus, and it should be terminated — period,” he said.
At LSA’s regularly scheduled faculty meeting held Monday afternoon, Pollack and Slottow again acknowledged the University’s mishandling of shared services and attempted to assure faculty their concerns would not only be considered but play a central role in future decision-making processes.
“I’m committed to cost savings because I have no choice… but I’m also committed to repairing the damage that’s been done during the rollout of AST,” Pollack said.
At the end of the meeting, the LSA faculty approved a motion to vote next week to support a two-year moratorium on the Shared Services Transition. The motion has been placed on the agenda for the Dec. 9 LSA faculty meeting.
During the question-and-answer session, Dena Goodman, professor of history and women’s studies, asked if the administration would be willing to abandon AST all together.
Slottow said if the University were to give up on AST, administrators would need to find savings elsewhere. From conversations with Coleman, regents and deans over the past few days, Slottow said there are still alternative options.
“While I understand the sentiment to say ‘just stop it,’ the sense of a lot of people is that that would be irresponsible,” Pollack added. “It’s our responsibility to move forward, but to do it right.”
One faculty member asked Pollack how the University could stand behind the vision of a few administrators while 1,100 faculty members protest the very nature of AST.
“I trust the faculty more, but I want to say this, there is misinformation on both sides,” Pollack said. “I am with the faculty. I am a faculty member.”
Two faculty members also raised overarching concerns regarding AST. Two faculty members questioned the University’s relationship with Accenture LLC — the consulting firm with an $11.7 million contract to implement the initiative.
Slottow said administrators regret how Accenture’s selection was communicated to faculty.
“That is a failure,” Slottow said. “I’m accountable for that; I feel responsible for that.”
Faculty have expressed concern with Accenture’s fee as well as its reputation and connections with Rowan Miranda, the University associate vice president for finance who formerly served as lead on Accenture’s state and local government and higher education portfolios. In November, Slottow released a statement addressing faculty member’s concerns.
At the LSA meeting, Slottow said AST is a complex program — a program the University does not have the resources to carry out on its own. He added that AST’s project team is composed of 24 University representatives and 10 from Accenture, aided by 100 faculty and staff from across the University.
Slottow said the University held a regularly audited competitive bid process, during which a number of firms made offers for the AST contract. A team of people from across the University evaluated the bid before choosing Accenture.
However, Slottow said the firm has not performed at the level administrators had hoped it would and are “looking at ways to reduce their involvement.”
Chemistry Prof. Charles Brooks asked if the University would disclose records related to the decision, to which Slottow responded by inviting anyone to look at the Accenture contract.
Brooks also asked why the initiative’s projected savings has fallen from $17 million in reoccurring savings to $6 million.
“As far as savings go, I have been equally frustrated and very angry with those numbers,” Pollack said.
However, Pollack said the decrease partly stems from the University’s decision to refrain from running the transition like a corporation. Instead of saying each department needed to find ten people to cut, the University worked with department and college leaders to figure out feasible numbers.
Pollack said the University never had any intent to hide these updated projections from the faculty but has traditionally left cost containment projects for administrators to grapple with.
Describing the University’s established “paternalistic” approach to cost-containment, Pollack said there has been the assumption that administrators should make decisions regarding efficiency and procurement savings, allowing faculty to focus on their research or teaching.
In the future, Pollack promised to gather input from faculty on similar issues, rather than protecting them from sometimes painful cost cutting processes.
“We’ve learned our lesson,” she said. “I really do appreciate the degree to which the faculty is taking this seriously.”