Austin, Texas — Protests by students and faculty continued on Thursday, April 24th, against a plan by the University of Texas administration to slash as many as 500 administrative jobs and reduce services to students. This followed a sit-in the previous day by protesters in the office of UT President William Powers, resulting in the arrest of 18 students.
Called "Shared Services", the UT plan would eliminate essential administrative services available in the buildings where students attend classes and interact with faculty members, and "consolidate" a smaller number of positions in a "centralized" location. UT estimates it could save $30 to $40 million per year by the job cuts, or about $60,000-$80,000 per position eliminated — money the university could then spend for other purposes.
Opposition has arisen because the the plan is perceived to threaten both the quality of student services as well as employees' jobs and working conditions. Shared Services seems to imply creating much heavier workloads for administrative employees — in effect, a recipe for intensified exploitation. The plan also seems to imply that students would be forced to queue up to get access to fewer personnel available to help them.
A further question raised is whether more "generic" personnel would have the same familiarity with specific fields of study and associated courses — History, Astronomy, Mathematics, Business, for example — as the employees currently assigned to these individual departments that the "centralized" personnel would replace.
The prospect of layoffs is also a festering issue, which mainstream media reports have downplayed, in some cases with what have seemed like efforts to alibi the UT administration's stance. For example, an April 24th KXAN-TV News segment reported that "UT hopes to trim those 500 positions through attrition and not refilling vacancies rather than through layoffs."
However, a report the same day on the alternative online news site The Horn noted that UT spokesman Gary Susswein "said while the goal is to cut the jobs with attrition and natural turnover, layoffs are possible." “We would try to do it without layoffs” Susswein was quoted. However, that doesn't sound like any kind of guarantee to protesters, among whom possible layoffs remain a major concern.
Students' apprehensions are also raised because of the involvement of the consulting firm Accenture in the development of the Shared Services plan. According to The Horn article cited above, Accenture has previously assisted the extremist-right Texas government in cutting services, producing, for example, "unreliable data for a state food stamp and healthcare project in the past that ended up costing the state money and left thousands without health insurance and benefits."
UT junior Bianca Hinz-Foley, one of the students arrested at the April 23rd sit-in, listed Accenture's involvement among the "main concerns" of the protesters. This was cited along with the possibility of layoffs, and fears that job cuts "could reduce the quality of UT services and force an unfair workload onto some staff members", according to The Horn report.
In a separate development on April 24th, another report by The Horn related that 28 "members of the University of Texas community", including a number of faculty members, released an "online letter" addressed to the UT administration that calls for charges against the students involved in the April 23rd sit-in to be dropped. Citing other cases, such as arrests in 2012 of anti-sweatshop activists and anti-war protesters in 2003, the letter asserts that UT's administration has followed a pattern of arresting student protesters.