Shared Services Uproar: Students Busted in Tower Sit-In

Tensions around job sharing plan peak

Students rally against Shared Services
Students rally against Shared Services (Photo courtesy of Bianca Hinz-Foley)

Tensions surrounding UT-Austin's Shared Services plan peaked last Wednesday, when 18 students were arrested on charges of criminal trespassing during a sit-in outside Pres­i­dent Bill Powers' office. While other efforts to protest the controversial staffing consolidation plan have not been as bold, they have been prolific, through letters, rallies, and resolutions.

On April 23, students, faculty, staff, and community members held a rally against the administration's plan, which would consolidate responsibilities and eliminate staff jobs. Along with featured speakers from the faculty council and Council Member Mike Martinez, staff member Bert Herigstad, an office manager in the Radio-Television-Film department, spoke of his objections to the program's implementation. Herigstad said he considered the rally an attempt to either slow down or halt Shared Services until the campus community can figure out how to "do it right, or not do it at all."

"My biggest fear is the quality of work on behalf of staff will go down dramatically," Herigstad said, "and this will have a direct effect on our customers, which are students and faculty, and research."

Following the rally, at about 3pm, a group of student protestors sat-in at Powers' office, among them representatives from University Democrats, University Leadership Initiative, and United Students Against Sweatshops. A little after 5pm, they were ordered to leave, and were subsequently arrested on charges of criminal trespassing, and then spent 14 hours at Travis County Jail.

Senior Sophia Poitier, United Students Against Sweatshops representative, said students felt they had been left with no choice after attempting to meet with Powers for more than a year. "In the tower," she recalled, "students chanted, 'We're excited, we're united, we're going to stand with staff, and we won't be divided,' to show our commitment to justice for campus staff, faculty, and our community as a whole."

On April 29, a resolution in opposition to the Shared Services program was introduced to Student Government, in hopes that UT administration will address the student concerns. According to resolution author and sophomore Taral Patel, these concerns pertain to the transparency of the process and the public opinion against the proposal by University stakeholders. "It is our community that is ultimately affected by the Shared Services proposal," Patel said. "Let's focus on other ways for the university to garner savings and increase efficiency."

On April 22, the Executive Committee of the Faculty Council had issued an "Open Letter to UT Austin Faculty," defending Shared Ser­vices and the administration's measured approach to the program through pilot versions and campus engagement. The committee's comments were echoed in an administration "Statement from UT Austin on the Exploration of Shared Services," released April 24. The statement called attention to the financial implications of the program. "In these days of dwindling higher education funding, we have to be responsible stewards of tax and tuition dollars," it reads. "Consol­i­dating administrative roles that are now spread across campus, and doing so largely through attrition, can help save $30 million to $40 million each year that can be spent on our educational mission."

Faculty members in opposition who had written to Powers earlier (see "Shared Ser­vices Begins Sharing ... Layoffs," April 18) received a response from him on April 25. Powers states his deep respect for his "longtime colleagues." But, "Even if the status quo for University operations were ideal, it simply is not sustainable," Powers wrote. "Sharing services is a way to take back control of our situation and, in the process, modernize our operations and make them better than before."

Elizabeth Gershoff, Human Development and Family Sciences associate professor and recent addition to the Shared Services Steer­ing Committee, said despite statements revealed in open records requests that suggest one staff member was laid off due to Shared Services, no individuals on campus will be laid off as a part of the program. "Something has to change because of budget shortfalls," Gershoff said. "It's really all about efficiency. Unfortunately, it's been misconstrued as firing people or laying people off, and that's not what it's about. ... Overall, efficiency is a good goal."

Posted here is (1) the open letter from the Executive Committee of the UT-Austin Faculty Council, defending the administration's approach to Shared Services, and (2) President Bill Powers' letter</b> responding to an April 8 letter from faculty members opposing Shared Services. The April 8 letter and other documents are posted with an earlier story, "UT Faculty Respond to Shared Services."

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