Workers, students, and faculty on February 7 rallied at the University of Texas at Austin campus to protest a plan to eliminate 500 UT jobs. The plan was authored by Accenture, an international company specializing in privatizing public resources.
More than 300 people gathered at and marched across the campus on a day when the opening of classes was delayed until noon because of a winter weather advisory.
“(Accenture’s) plan is for UT to spend $130 million in order to eliminate 500 UT jobs and relocate 400 other jobs into centralized call centers,” said Anne Lewis, an instructor in the UT Radio, Television, and Film Department and executive board member of the Texas State Employees Union CWA Local 6186 (TSEU) at the rally.
“The plan is the same old stuff on steroids,” Lewis continued. “Claiming austerity, (it’s)a neoliberal attack on the public sector and on public workers. The impact is both on the nature and the day-to-day at this university.”
UT, claiming that it is facing a deficit in its operating budget, contracted with Accenture to develop a plan to redesign administrative services and save money.
Accenture’s big picture plan calls for more centralization and the privatization of services at UT.
Accenture released its Shared Services proposal, the initial phase of its long-range redesign plan, in the fall of 2013. The plan eliminates 500 administrative information technology, finance, and human resources jobs and centralizes the rest. Much of the centralized work would be done at call centers.
Shared Services and Accenture’s long-range redesign plan has sparked the ire of students, workers, and faculty, which has led to a series of public protests.
“We’ve won some victories,” said Lewis at a TSEU meeting prior to the most recent rally and march. “UT backed away from privatizing food service work, which Accenture originally proposed, and more recently, the UT administration said that it will slow down the implementation of Shared Services. But the administration is just biding its time hoping that we’ll be lulled into a sense of complacency, so that it can move ahead without so much resistance.”
The fight to halt Accenture’s ill-conceived redesign plan, is led by the Save Our Community Coalition (SOCC), composed of TSEU, Education Austin, Workers Defense Project, International Socialist Organization (ISO), Oxfam, University Leadership Initiative, Native American and Indigenous Collective (NAIC), Queer People of Color and Allies (QPOCA), Texas Fair Trade Coalition, and United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS).
The February rally and march coincided with a national USAS conference, and many of the participants were USAS members attending the conference.
“(We fear) that any continuing relationship with Accenture puts the university at risk,” Bianca Hinz Foley, local organizer for USAS. “The Save Our Community Coalition, a UT and community-based group, is committed to putting pressure on the UT administration to protect UT as a place that values each community member, including hard-working and dedicated staff. The group is calling on Chancellor Cigarroa and President Bill Powers to terminate all current contracts with Accenture and prevent any future relationships with the firm.”
According SOCC, Accenture has a long history of costly and failed redesign projects. Most prominent among these was Accenture’s plan to redesign and privatize Texas’ health and human services.
Texas paid Accenture more than $200 million but had to scrap its plan that relied heavily on privatized call centers because the call centers made it difficult for Texans to access health and human services such as Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Temporary Aid to Needy Families, and food stamps.
UT workers, students, and faculty are concerned that if Accenture’s administrative redesign is implemented the quality of services provided by UT employees will decline because the close working relationship that now exists between staff and the students and faculty who they serve will be replaced by impersonal and distant call centers.
UT has justified the need for Accenture’s redesign by citing a deficit in the university’s operating budget.
But Dr. Alberto Martinez, a UT history professor, in an op ed piece appearing in the Austin American Statesman said that UT’s so-called fiscal crisis is really a crisis of misplaced priorities.
According to Martinez, UT raised $463 million last year as a result of its fund raising efforts; however, none of this money will be used to fund operations, where it is really needed.
Instead, the money was funneled into endowments and other restricted accounts.
If UT had its priorities straight, wrote Martinez. “We could solve a severe $1 million deficit in a college in just 20 hours of fund raising.”