More than 100 faculty members at the University of Texas at Austin signed a letter this week expressing concern and dismay over a proposal to centralize and consolidate services such as human resources and information technology.
That shared services model would combine administrative services now located and staffed in individual departments of the university in an attempt to save millions of dollars annually.
In the letter to UT-Austin President Bill Powers, faculty members posited that such a move would harm the university's sense of community. "People choose to work at the University of Texas at Austin because they believe in its educational and social mission," the letter said. "Adoption of a shared services model will weaken departments’ commitment to those missions by devaluing bonds between faculty and staff that develop from working toward common goals."
The faculty members also said money paid to Accenture, a consulting firm, to support the university's Committee on Business Productivity and implement the shared services plan "could have been used to meet our core missions and enhance staff services and staff support."
That committee, chaired by Steve Rohleder, a top executive at Accenture, recommended strategies that university officials said could generate as much as $490 million in savings and new revenue over 10 years.
The University of Texas System previously launched a review of Accenture's contract due to what UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa described in an email as concerns over "potential conflict of interest issues and other related questions." That review has not yet concluded.
"We have welcomed feedback like this from staff, students and faculty for more than a year and such input from the campus community helped us craft our current plans," said Gary Susswein, a spokesman for UT-Austin. He noted that no final plan has been approved. "The first steps have been taken in the development of pilot programs, and we will look at what works well for campus and our staff," he said.
In their letter, the faculty members said it was difficult not to view the university's embrace of the business productivity initiative "as part of the overly zealous, profit-motivated corporatist mandate, which is likely to erode public institutions and public services across this country."
When Texas A&M University, also in the name of savings, outsourced its maintenance, landscaping and dining services in 2012, it prompted similar outcries from staff and faculty. The plan moved forward despite the opposition.
UT’s Susswein noted that cost-cutting measures, such as the shared services plan under consideration, were increasingly common.
"In these days of dwindling higher education funding, we have to be responsible stewards of tax and tuition dollars," he said. "Consolidating administrative roles that are now spread across campus, largely through attrition, can help accomplish that."
Disclosure: Accenture and the University of Texas at Austin are corporate sponsors of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Texas Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.