Several hundred protesters took to the streets in a demonstration Friday, Feb. 7, to call on UT administrators to cut further ties with consulting firm Accenture and halt the implementation of "Shared Services," a cost-saving pilot program that threatens to eliminate 500 jobs.
One of several recent actions led by a coalition of student and community organizations opposing Shared Services, the protest began with a rally, after which demonstrators marched across campus. Frequent stops were made as marchers danced, flash mob-style, to an Accenture-rejecting adaptation of the Jackson 5's "ABC."
Sophia Poitier, philosophy senior and University work-study employee, was among the speakers at the rally. From where she stood at the foot of the UT Tower, Poitier motioned to the words inscribed above the main entrance: "Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free."
"I think that this university has some really great ideas," Poitier said. "When I look at my university ... I don't want to see a place where we are plucking workers out like they're expendable, like they don't matter to students. I interact with staff every single day. They are part of my education."
Bianca Hinz-Foley, a student activist behind many protests against the program, said any relationship with Accenture after its controversial history with Shared Services at the University of Michigan is irresponsible at best. (See "Shared Services or Shared Suffering," Jan. 24.) "There are more than enough reasons to discontinue any further relationship with Accenture and to halt any plans they had a hand in shaping, including the Shared Services pilots," Hinz-Foley said. She said she's met at length with UT staff to discuss their concerns and that many workers have privately expressed fears of losing their jobs.
As these students, faculty, and community members have continued protesting UT's relationship with Accenture, UT Chief Financial Officer Kevin Hegarty has maintained his position that there is no direct relationship with Accenture at this time. Hegarty most recently addressed this topic in a public document submitted to the UT Faculty Council in response to a Faculty Council resolution regarding the Shared Services program. The resolution outlined requests for UT to disclose information such as a list of the university units that volunteered to undergo a Shared Services pilot, regular reports on the pilot implementation, and specifics regarding the role of Accenture.
In his responses to the resolution, Hegarty addressed each of the eight requests, including a statement of UT's past and current involvement with Accenture.
"There is no current contractual engagement of Accenture as of February 6, 2014," Hegarty wrote in his response to Faculty Council Chair Hillary Hart. "The Shared Services Project Team will likely want to engage the assistance of a consulting firm as part of its piloting of shared services. Those services will be procured through a UT Austin-sponsored competitive bidding process."
Hart said given that the response came just over a week after the council released its resolution, she was satisfied with its contents. "You know, there's a lot of passion around this subject," Hart said. "I think the unions are especially passionate – they see it as losing jobs and ruining lives, but I think it's not that simplistic. Life wasn't that great anyway what with the budget cuts."
Though a representative from the UT Staff Council was not available for comment, Hart said that from her interactions with representatives of staff, she has learned that staff members have many varying perspectives regarding the program. "Something that bothers me about some of my colleagues is they claim to know what's good for staff," Hart said. "I just hope we can proceed carefully, cautiously, and with good faith."
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