Through bitter winds and the frigid snowfall, echoes of “chop from the top” and “no AST cuts” resonated across the Diag.
Marching from Rackham Auditorium to the Fleming Administration Building, almost 50 students, faculty and staff gathered Monday to deliver a letter to Rowan Miranda, associate vice president for finance. Miranda is one of the administrators involved in the implementation of the proposed Shared Services Center — but has come under fire because of his previous relationship with the consulting firm that designed the initiative.
The center, a component of the Administrative Services Transformation project, would consolidate some University departmental staff members into a central location on State Street near the University’s Wolverine Tower, creating an estimated savings of $5 to $6 million per year. The transition would move almost 300 clerical employees to the new location and would require that they re-interview for their new positions.
While University administrators announced that they will delay the transition due to a slew of faculty concerns and a 1200-signiture strong petition, the group assembled Monday to demand a full rollback of the AST initiative.
Rackham student Brian Whitener, a member of the Student Union of Michigan, said the letter delivered to Miranda includes a job application for him to fill out to be evaluated by the group of protesters. The gesture comes after staff members affected by the Shared Services Center were required to re-interview for their jobs with the University.
Along with the Student Union of Michigan, members of the Graduate Employee’s Organization and Lecturers’ Employee Organization also participated in the march.
Whitener said the mixed group of student and faculty participants reflect the importance of halting the AST initiative by demonstrating how it negatively affects the majority of the campus population.
“We think that the University should be run in a different way and it should be run with the priorities of students, who are the primary attendees of the institution, and workers, who are the primary motors of the institution,” Whitener said.
While Whitener said he agrees that costs should be cut at the University, he believes AST is not the right way to do it. He said upper-level administrators’ salaries should be cut and the University should halt “needless and unnecessary” construction projects that cost millions. SUM has previously voiced its opposition to the $180 million Munger Graduate Residences — the University’s largest current construction project.
“It is a stand-in for a larger logic of what the University should be and how the University should be run, and we’re opposed to that,” Whitener said.
University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said while it is too early to predict the future plans for the consolidation initiative, University Provost Martha Pollack and Tim Slottow, executive vice president and chief financial officer, are currently speaking to concerned faculty members to gauge their opinions.
“We will continue that important dialogue as we work together to evaluate the different options for structuring shared services in the near future,” Pollack said in a statement.
Earlier this year, the University signed an $11.7-million contract with Accenture LLP, a Chicago-based consulting firm, to help facilitate the AST consolidation process. Miranda previously worked for the firm, but Slottow said in November Miranda removed himself from firm relations “to eliminate any possibility of real or perceived bias.”
Rackham student Diana Sierra, a member of GEO, said the AST consolidation efforts would hurt the least financially stable staff on campus and a disproportionate amount of women employees.
“I see this as a very explicit attack on the workers at campus,” Sierra said. “You see that the University is trying to handle a so-called budget crisis on the backs of its most vulnerable workers, and I think that’s part of a bigger issue as to who has decision-making power on campus.”
Although Sierra said that workers would be potentially laid off with the implementation of AST, University officials said in November that there will be no layoffs as a result of the new Center.
Rackham student Paige Andersson said decreasing resources for the lower-level workers on campus sheds light on what she sees as the larger goals of the financial framework at the University.
“The focus is away from education and the resources to provide an affordable education — which affects diversity and all sorts of other things — to basically enrich people at the top,” Anderson said.
Sierra echoed Anderson’s points about financialization at the University — one of SUM’s main issues. As the University’s Black Student Union recently made national news by bringing the experiences of Black students — who constitute 4.65 percent of enrolled students — on campus to light, Sierra said college affordability for students from diverse backgrounds should be the University’s top priority.
While the University’s enrollment does not directly relate to the fight against AST, Sierra said it reflects a larger issue of who has the decision-making power on campus.
“I think this initiative is part of a larger effort to really address those diversity questions in a way that is not an empty buzzword (like) the University wants to paint in their pamphlets, but that if you’re actually interested, you actually need to have people be a part of the process.”