Yesterday 18 University of Texas students were arrested after occupying the office of UT President Bill Powers in opposition to a University initiative for “shared services,” a euphemism for administrative consolidation and out-sourcing. The group protested after Powers refused to meet with them for over a year. The sit-in came on the heels of a letter delivered on Tuesday to Powers by more than 100 UT professors opposing the plan.
While “in-sourcing” and “out-sourcing” plans inevitably draw opposition from those who worry about a decline in services or who risk losing their jobs, it is the shady origins of the plan and its other provisions that should really be drawing the scrutiny of UT faculty and students.
The “shared services” plan is part of a proposal put forward by the UT Committee on Business Productivity, a “blue ribbon” panel of business leaders organized by UT President Bill Powers in April 2012. The goal of the committee was to make recommendations about how the University could cut costs and increase revenue by thinking like a business. (The philosophical question of whether a public university – a state agency – should be trying to “maximize revenue” instead of giving its products freely to the benefit of society is a question best answered in another forum.)
Steve Rohleder, the former COO of Accenture and a current member of the out-sourcing consulting firm’s executive leadership team was tapped as Chairman of the committee. In turn, Accenture received a $995,000 contract to assist the work of the Business Productivity committee. This total was just under the $1,000,000 mark required for Board of Regents approval of a University contract. The contract was then amended twice without Regents’ approval to reach a total amount of more than $1,083,000.
A year later, the Committee released its final report. What did students and taxpayers get for their million dollar investment?
The report, though colorful and filled with attractive charts and graphs, totaled a mere 32 pages. Of that total, eight pages were biographies of the committee members, two pages were devoted to the front and back covers, four pages were full color stock photos of studious coeds, and another two pages were devoted to a table of contents and a message from Powers. All told, there were only 16 pages of actual content in the report, including a two page “executive summary.”
But what about the report’s content? It can be broken into three basic categories (and I take a little bit of liberty to paraphrase the titles): Section I: Nickel and Dime Students; Section II: License More Stuff; and Section III: Fire People.
In all seriousness, the first section entitled “Asset Utilization” suggests selling excess electricity produced by the campus while mostly focusing on increasing fees on students for parking, housing, and food to match “market rates.” The second section, “Technology Commercialization,” focuses on increasing licensing staff in order to license for profit more technology produced by the University. Finally, the third section, “Administrative Services Transformation,” recommends combining administrative services across departments. The report leaves this section unfinished, concluding that “further analysis” is required.
Each of these proposals seem rather obvious, regardless of whether they are well-advised. Yet Accenture made over one million dollars to put them forward. And adding insult to injury, guess which company stands to make over $3 million overseeing the implementation of the much scorned “shared services” plan? You guessed it: Accenture!
The way in which these contracts were doled-out, sans Regent approval, and the conflicts of interest between Bill Powers, Steve Rohleder, and Accenture are currently under investigation by the University of Texas System. That investigation is not yet complete. However, this is one more scandal that has rocked the University of Texas at Austin under Powers’ watch.
Note: This post was edited to correct a mistake which stated that Accenture stood to earn $300 million. The correct number is $3 million. We apologize for the error.