Four Lessons from Monday’s Protest and Mary Sue Coleman’s Response

On Monday SUM, along with concerned faculty, staff, lecturers, and students held a protest against AST. The event targeted the intellectual author of AST, Rowan Miranda, and made a broader demand that the corrupt, wasteful policy be called off. On Wednesday, Mary Sue Coleman spoke publicly about AST for the first time, announcing both that she fully intended to see AST move forward in April and that Rowan Miranda would no longer head the transition. This is a small victory—while shifting Miranda to a different project in no way stops the administration’s plans for AST, what is clear that the administration is reacting to the pressure from below. Here are four lessons that we learned this week:

1. The university will first try to shuffle things around before changing policy. The administration only took Rowan Miranda out of the spotlight while it is still moving full speed ahead with AST. They are trying to distract us with nominal change, rather than engage us as a community that deeply disagrees with this policy on logical, rational grounds. Changing Rowan Miranda’s position does not engage our outrage over a corrupt and wasteful contract with Accenture, the damage AST will do to research and education, or address the idea that the administration can openly and painlessly abuse and take advantage of a dedicated staff that helps sustain and fuel this institution. We are not going to be distracted by Miranda’s relocation, but we are heartened by the fact that the university felt pressured enough to react.

2. We must continue to educate about the budget. Mary Sue Coleman’s public statements reiterate the administration’s constant lie that AST is a direct response to declining state support. She fails to acknowledge the construction spree and excess spending by and on upper level administrators that are fueling rising tuition.* Until the administration is honest about why we lack funding (it has more to do with going $85 million into debt over the Munger dorms and corrupt contracts with Accenture than it does with staff inefficiency and declining state funding), we cannot have an honest conversation about cost containment. The only way to force the administration to open up the conversation is to continue to reach out to faculty, students, and staff and share our budgetary analysis. Too many of the faculty proposals thus far lack a basic grasp of how money flows through this university. We need to continue to provide educational meetings and materials to help folks know where our funds come from and how they are being spent by the administration. At the core of this fight is the need to deal not with declining state support, but rather with an administration that is constantly pledging student tuition as collateral for construction projects and paying itself (and its corporate “consultant” friends) ever increasing sums that we cannot afford.

3. The administration is not taking the idea of faculty, staff, or student input seriously. The administration is still planning to move forward with AST beginning this summer, as Mary Sue Coleman assured us on Wednesday and e-mails to staff members about the transition confirmed.

Image 1: Recent e-mail received by staff. The administration is moving ahead quickly with AST, sending out critical e-mails like this one during finals week (probably to avoid communal discussion and protest).

However, we have heard them consistently promise to consult the faculty in the ensuing months about the transition. What input can faculty and staff offer in four months that will substantively modify AST’s implementation? Is the administration going to let them choose the décor of the new shared services call center? This is a major insult to the demand for more participatory decision-making. It is also notable that despite the claim that this is being done to keep tuition down, students are protesting the measure, making (and numerically supporting) the claim that this will not result in shared savings and will decrease the quality of our educations.

4. Direct Action matters. Over the past six weeks we’ve seen an inspiring groundswell of activity around AST, including writing, public meetings, and a very well attended teach-in. That being said, Mary Sue Coleman declined to speak publicly until we started holding the intellectual author of this policy accountable for his work in a public, embarrassing way. While her response was disappointing and inadequate (changing Rowan Miranda’s nominal job does not actually change anything), we now know that public responses to AST outside of institutionalized university spaces matter and must play a role in this fight. Monday’s protest scared the administration enough that they felt they had to respond, despite their claims that Miranda is “focus[ing] his attention on other areas”. What they did was a mere PR move, but it tells us that we cannot get their attention without loud, public, non-institutionally sanctioned protest.

As we have written elsewhere, the university’s ability to borrow massive amounts of money to continue to fund its construction spree, pay top-level administrators’ astronomical salaries, and continually increase their ranks relies on its high credit rating. The university’s high credit rating relies in large part on the idea that labor is generally submissive and that the administration can and will raise tuition as needed. We are incredibly threatening to the university administration when we gather in large numbers, publicly denounce their policies, and refuse to silently obey. Our power comes from organizing outside of institutionally sanctioned forums controlled by the administration and threatening their reputation in the financial sector as able to exploit us freely and without question. We need to stay loud, visible, and confrontational if we are going to win this fight.

* When we talk about administrators in this piece we are talking about the University Administration (namely the President, the Vice Presidents serving under her, the many administrators under them, including Rowan Miranda, Associate VP of Finance). We are not talking about the members of HR who will be affected by AST, whom we refer to as staff in this piece to avoid confusion.

A False Compromise

SUM has two pieces in the Michigan Daily today. The first is a short op-ed explaining what AST is and why we should not accept any compromise proposed by the administration:

Over the past decade, the University has paid private consulting firm Accenture $19.4 million for various “cost-containment” projects. These projects have not touched the impressive salaries of the University’s top earners, attempted to curtail the unnecessarily large and growing administrative class or decreased spending on expensive, superfluous construction projects intended to attract wealthy out-of-state “consumer students” who pay higher tuition prices. These cost-containment projects have involved the de-skilling and the de-personalizing of labor so that it may be more expendable and decreased job security in order to force employees to accept unfavorable working conditions out of fear of losing their jobs.

The latest cost-containment project — for which the University paid Accenture $11.7 million — is called Administrative Services Transformation. AST aims to tear human resources and financial services staff from their departments and centralize them to a Shared Services Center on the edge of Ann Arbor, far from where they are needed. These 325 employees will be forced to re-interview for their jobs, of which there would be only 275 after the transition.

The decision to implement AST at the University, not to mention the signing of an $11.7 million contract with Accenture, was made without consulting the people it would affect. AST is predicted to save $5 to $6 million per year, an amount that pales in comparison to any single unnecessary construction project, like the much-contested $185 million Munger dormitory — $85 million of which will be purchased with University debt. “Cost-containment” can be seen as mere pretext — the real purpose of AST and similar labor-attacking efforts is to disenfranchise and control the employees whose work makes the University but whose wages and benefits are an obstacle to the ability of the University to run like a large corporation.

We must oppose AST outright. We must not be placated by AST-like substitutes or delays in implementing AST. The administration is trained and experienced in suppressing dissent to their policies. They will attempt to “compromise” with us, but we must remember that their goal has not changed.

We should be extremely wary of “compromises” on AST, as they are most likely not compromises at all. For instance, in response to a letter of opposition to AST penned by faculty, the administration announced that it would delay the transition. The implementation is delayed beyond April, that is, to the summer — a time when the opposition will be least capable. Plans to re-interview employees have not been delayed. Amazingly, this “compromise” does not impede the transition to AST, but it does help kill opposition to AST.

It may seem like we are making progress in stopping AST by “compromising” with the administration, but in fact, we aren’t. Ending AST cannot happen through the same channels by which it was conceived. Our strength lies in standing together and confronting the University on our terms, not theirs. Any willingness to compromise opens the door to our opposition strategically imposing AST on us. Therefore, we simply must stand our ground in opposing AST outright.

Monday at 3 p.m., the Student Union of Michigan along with faculty, staff and student opponents of the Administrative Services Transition will be delivering the following restructuring letter to the office of Rowan Miranda, the University’s associate vice president of finance and AST’s architect.

Through direct action we hope to both highlight the injustice of AST as a specific program as well as the broader context of the university corporatization it reflects. While we march to Miranda’s office today, we do so not because he’s the root of the problems we face, but rather because his engineering of AST represents just the latest in a series of administrative decisions made without student, faculty or staff support that are transforming the University of Michigan.

With the explosive growth of tuition, the attacks on unions, the seemingly endless building spree across campus and the expansion of the size and pay of the administration, we’ve watched as our University has deprioritized its mission of public education, instead pursuing policies that deepen inequalities and injustice both on our campus and within our society.

The second piece in the Daily is a copy of the letter we will be delivering to Associate Vice President of Finance Rowan Miranda today requiring that he, like the workers who are slated for eventual downsizing through AST, reapply for his job and be evaluated by a panel of students and workers. Check out the letter and come join us today at 3pm in the Rackham lobby to help us make this special delivery!

[Facebook event]

Special Delivery: Make Rowan Miranda Reapply for His Job

rowan miranda

Update 12/9: The Daily published a front-page article on the protest here.

The University of Michigan’s “shared services”/AST plan, headed by Associate VP of Finance (and former Accenture executive) Rowan Miranda, will force staff to reapply for their jobs and receive lower wages and benefits. We’ve decided Rowan should have the same opportunity. Undergraduate students, graduate students, faculty, staff, and community members will join together to walk from Rackham Graduate School through central campus to Rowan Miranda’s office, where we will deliver a letter stating that he must quit his job and re-apply. His re-application will then be considered by a large group of students and workers, who will determine if he is fit for re-hire and if so at what wage.

Meet us in the front lobby of Rackham on Monday, December 9 at 3pm to be a part of this special delivery. Here’s the Facebook event.

[Download the flyer]