an exploration of urban identity in the middle of Texas
Austin would not be the city it is without the University of Texas: it is one of the economic, social, and cultural hubs of the city. It employs tens of thousands of people as faculty and staff, enrolls more than 50,000 students, and brings in millions of dollars to the city. While the University of Texas at Austin boasts that “what starts here, changes the world,” it might be more accurate to say, “What starts here, changes Austin.”
In 2013, the University of Texas at Austin announced that it would implement “Shared Services” across the university. “Shared Services” describes a particular type of corporate business model that centralizes and streamlines essential institutional functions. The plan has been extremely controversial. Its boosters claim that it will save the University millions of dollars and create a far more efficient institution. Its critics argue that it offers negligible gains at incredibly high cost: 500 staff members will lose their jobs. The plan has sparked a wave of protests across the university. In early April 2014, more than 100 faculty members signed a letter to President William Powers opposing it. That same month, more than 200 faculty members, students, and staff held a protest rally in front of the University Tower. The evening of the protest, 18 students members of the Save our Community Coalition were arrested after holding a sit-in in front of President Power’s office.
The following pamphlet by Adam J. Tallman and David Villarreal, UT graduate students and representatives from the UT Graduate Student Assembly, details Shared Services at UT, exploring its history and its consequences. They critique the university’s relationship with Accenture, a multinational consulting firm that UT employed to do initial research on the plan’s implementation. They argue that UT’s administration has grossly exaggerated the plan’s benefits and that it will be far more costly than the university admits. They importantly situate what’s happening at UT within political-economic trends affecting universities across the United States. As they write, “The Shared Services issue is not just a narrow question about saving money, but touches on questions about the function of a public institution of Higher Education.” In the United States, it is becoming increasingly common to treat higher education as a business rather than a social good. That is to say, the university is facing pressures from an “increasingly globalized and competitive economy.” These are the same forces that are actively changing the city of Austin. In that sense, “Shared Services at UT” is an important document attesting to the experience of those living within the changing cityscape. We present it as it was distributed to and circulated throughout the UT-Austin community. You can download the pamphlet as a PDF here: “Shared Services at UT” by Adam J. Tallman and David Villarreal
Adam J. Tallman is a Ph.D. Student in Linguistics at UT Austin and a member of UT’s Graduate Student Assembly. David Villarreal is a Ph.D. Candidate in History at UT Austin and President of the Graduate Student Assembly.