In a special forum called by interim LSA Dean Susan Gelman at last week’s regularly scheduled faculty meeting.About 250 LSA professors and faculty members met in Rackham Auditorium Monday evening to debate the controversial Administration Services Transformation project — which would consolidate some University staff in a central location and save the University an estimated $5 to $6 million per year.
The group of faculty passed a motion that calls for AST to be delayed for two years. Its implementation would then be reevaluated pending “a more thorough” examination of alternatives, determination of costs and benefits, and consultation with the affected schools, colleges, faculty and staff members.
American Culture Prof. Gregory Dowd, the chair of the American Culture Department, brought forth the motion. He hopes it will open further discussion on the consultation between faculty and top administrators, negating any consequences of a rushed implementation. Additionally, faculty members hope to increase the transparency of the decision-making process between administrators and the rest of the campus community, a common complaint of the administration’s handling of the project thus far.
A copy of the resolution will be sent to University President Mary Sue Coleman; University Provost Martha Pollack; E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life; and Timothy Slottow, executive vice president and chief financial officer.
AST was developed through an $11.7 million contract with Accenture, a major consulting firm, signed earlier this year. Since the University announced the plan, it has garnered criticism from diverse campus constituencies. Almost 1,200 faculty members have signed a petition against the transition, and multiple departments have sent letters directly to top administrators.
Earlier Monday, about 50 students, faculty and staff delivered a letter to Rowan Miranda, associate vice president of finance and one of the leaders in implementing the proposed Shared Services Center initiative, demanding that Miranda should resign and reapply for his position. Miranda previously worked for Accenture’s higher education practice — which some have viewed as a conflict of interest with his current position.
University administrators announced last week that they will delay the transition to the Shared Services Center until after April and continue to reevaluate the extent of the initiative in the wake of faculty outcry.
Astronomy Prof. Sally Oey, a member of the Senate Assembly Committee on University Affairs, brought forth an amendment clarifying that the implementation would be reevaluated after two years rather than just delayed for that amount of time.
“It would allow people to have a meaningful dialogue,” Oey said. She added that there isn’t enough information right now to rush into a decision.
Dario Gaggio, associate professor of history, said the motion should call for the implementation to be called off completely so as to avoid sending a mixed message. However, the faculty group defeated the amendment.
Dowd stressed that the implementation of AST should be reconsidered only if the administrators and faculty members open a dialogue and properly investigate the costs, benefits and alternatives.
“I think a number of us felt that … we would be engaging in exactly the kind of, ‘we know better than you’ that we feel we are getting from the administration,” Dowd said. “Maybe there are parts of AST that are salvageable.”
Some faculty members had mixed feelings about the proposed motion and the amendments. Information Prof. Paul Edwards said the nature of the transformation may be widely misunderstood by faculty members.
“I urge restraint on this,” Edwards said. “I do not feel that I know what AST means on any level. I feel that it has been deeply studied by the administration.”
Although administrators sent out a letter in November that promised there would be no layoffs resulting from the transition, others at the meeting warned that the effects of AST and the Shared Service Center will occur by default without the actual implementation as employees quit to find more stable positions or their contracts expire without renewal.
In a statement, Pollack said the University delayed the implementation to hear from more faculty and will continue the dialogue to evaluate different options.
“We need to see what is feasible, both technically and economically, and what is consistent with faculty, staff and student needs,” Pollack said. “We will not go forward with any option that is inconsistent with our core academic values and mission.”
University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said the University is open to extending the delay beyond April 2014, but noted that it is premature to speculate on what will happen.