Over the past decade, the University has paid private consulting firm Accenture $19.4 million for various “cost-containment” projects. These projects have not touched the impressive salaries of the University’s top earners, attempted to curtail the unnecessarily large and growing administrative class or decreased spending on expensive, superfluous construction projects intended to attract wealthy out-of-state “consumer students” who pay higher tuition prices. These cost-containment projects have involved the de-skilling and the de-personalizing of labor so that it may be more expendable and decreased job security in order to force employees to accept unfavorable working conditions out of fear of losing their jobs.
The latest cost-containment project — for which the University paid Accenture $11.7 million — is called Administrative Services Transformation. AST aims to tear human resources and financial services staff from their departments and centralize them to a Shared Services Center on the edge of Ann Arbor, far from where they are needed. These 325 employees will be forced to re-interview for their jobs, of which there would be only 275 after the transition.
The decision to implement AST at the University, not to mention the signing of an $11.7 million contract with Accenture, was made without consulting the people it would affect. AST is predicted to save $5 to $6 million per year, an amount that pales in comparison to any single unnecessary construction project, like the much-contested $185 million Munger dormitory — $85 million of which will be purchased with University debt. “Cost-containment” can be seen as mere pretext — the real purpose of AST and similar labor-attacking efforts is to disenfranchise and control the employees whose work makes the University but whose wages and benefits are an obstacle to the ability of the University to run like a large corporation.
We must oppose AST outright. We must not be placated by AST-like substitutes or delays in implementing AST. The administration is trained and experienced in suppressing dissent to their policies. They will attempt to “compromise” with us, but we must remember that their goal has not changed.
We should be extremely wary of “compromises” on AST, as they are most likely not compromises at all. For instance, in response to a letter of opposition to AST penned by faculty, the administration announced that it would delay the transition. The implementation is delayed beyond April, that is, to the summer — a time when the opposition will be least capable. Plans to re-interview employees have not been delayed. Amazingly, this “compromise” does not impede the transition to AST, but it does help kill opposition to AST.
It may seem like we are making progress in stopping AST by “compromising” with the administration, but in fact, we aren’t. Ending AST cannot happen through the same channels by which it was conceived. Our strength lies in standing together and confronting the University on our terms, not theirs. Any willingness to compromise opens the door to our opposition strategically imposing AST on us. Therefore, we simply must stand our ground in opposing AST outright.
Monday at 3 p.m., the Student Union of Michigan along with faculty, staff and student opponents of the Administrative Services Transition will be delivering the following restructuring letter to the office of Rowan Miranda, the University’s associate vice president of finance and AST’s architect.
Through direct action we hope to both highlight the injustice of AST as a specific program as well as the broader context of the university corporatization it reflects. While we march to Miranda’s office today, we do so not because he’s the root of the problems we face, but rather because his engineering of AST represents just the latest in a series of administrative decisions made without student, faculty or staff support that are transforming the University of Michigan.
With the explosive growth of tuition, the attacks on unions, the seemingly endless building spree across campus and the expansion of the size and pay of the administration, we’ve watched as our University has deprioritized its mission of public education, instead pursuing policies that deepen inequalities and injustice both on our campus and within our society.
To view the letter to Rowan Miranda, please click here.
This letter was written by the Student Union of Michigan.