A group of students and others concerned about early plans to possibly outsource additional jobs at the University of Texas on Tuesday asked for transparency and a seat at the discussion table.
In January, a committee convened to offer advice on how to improve UT’s business operations submitted a list of ideas it said could save more than $490 million over a decade. The recommendations to UT President Bill Powers included privatizing parking and on-campus dining services,as well as a proposal to sell excess electricity generated by the university’s power plant.
There are 1,208 employees in UT’s parking and on-campus housing and dining departments.
Members of the Save Our Community Coalition, which includes local nonprofits and members of the Texas State Employees Union, said Tuesday that they wanted to be involved in conversations about outsourcing jobs. But an attempt to deliver a letter to Powers was thwarted Tuesday; he was not in his office.
The group declined to give a copy of the letter to the American-Statesman.
Kevin Hegarty, UT’s vice president and chief financial officer, said that the university is establishing a series of groups to study the committee’s recommendations and that no decisions have been made .
“I am a little disappointed that people who want us to cease privatization haven’t bothered to even ask if there are any plans to do more privatization,” Hegarty said. “The answer is no. That’s not to say that these committees might not decide (privatization) is what we want to do.”
Hegarty and Soncia Reagins-Lilly, UT’s dean of students, will meet with the coalition this week, UT officials said.
UT has outsourced various services over the years, including campus deliveries, student and alumni email, custodial services and the campus computer store. Outsourcing those services saves UT more than $40 million a year, Hegarty said.
But outsourcing is not always the best choice, he said. It’s successful when it delivers a service at a lower cost while improving the quality of the service, he said.
Sydney Dwoskin, a junior geography major and a member of the coalition, said the group felt UT had not asked for community input on these recommendations. Dwoskin said that in two letters, the group asked Powers to hold open discussions on the outsourcing ideas but did not receive much of a response.
Dwoskin said the lack of communication leads her to doubt Hegarty’s claim that there are no plans to outsource jobs.
“If that is in fact the case, then why can’t they be really transparent about the whole process and set up a meeting with us?” Dwoskin said. “We’re not saying they’re lying, but we’ve just been out of the loop.”
Anne Lewis, a UT professor and member of the Texas State Employees Union, is urging UT to act slowly and carefully on ideas that include outsourcing jobs. She said that among other things, outsourced workers lose state pensions and medical benefits they were promised.
“They lose the kind of rights and dignity that university protections offer. They lose the right to organize. They — and we — lose control over the quality and safety of their jobs,” Lewis said.
UT efficiency recommendations
A 13-member panel of business leaders found that the University of Texas could save as much as $490 million in the next 10 years by tightening up some of its administrative operations. See a copy of its report and previous American-Statesman coverage at http://bit.ly/14s1qWi.