Eighteen Save Our Community Coalition members were arrested while participating in a sit-in against Shared Services in front of President William Powers Jr.’s office, following a more than 200-person protest in front of the UT Tower on Wednesday afternoon.
According to UT spokesman Gary Susswein, the arrested demonstrators will be charged with criminal trespassing, a Class B misdemeanor. Susswein said Powers was in his office working all afternoon.
“[The protesters] were given several warnings by the Dean of Students’ office that at 5 p.m. the office would be closing and they needed to leave,” Susswein said. “They did not, so they have been arrested.”
Shared Services is a plan to centralize the University’s human resources, finance, information technology and procurement services. The plan calls for the elimination of 500 positions, which UT officials have said will primarily take place through attrition and retirement. The committee is now moving forward with pilot versions of the plan in the College of Education and the Office of the Provost.
The sit-in was live-streamed online, and students took turns talking about their concerns with the University’s efforts to improve efficiency. After the protesters began chanting, Dean of Students Soncia Reagins-Lilly warned them to lower their voices and said they would be arrested if they stayed at Powers’ office past 5 p.m. Of the 19 protesters, only one left.
Plan II Honors junior Bianca Hinz-Foley, a representative of the protesters, said the coalition members wanted more dialogue with UT administrators. Hinz-Foley and a group of roughly 20 coalition members also held a demonstration in front of Powers’ office on April 3, though Powers was not in his office at the time.
“Students are sharing stories, and I think we’re all committed to stay until President Powers hears us out,” Hinz-Foley said. “We’re prepared to stay as long as it takes.”
Geography senior Sydney Dwoskin, another protester, said she felt the sit-in was an important component of students’ efforts to halt Shared Services’ implementation.
“At this point, we feel we have no other choice,” Dwoskin said. “We’re not going to leave till we get Shared Services cut.”
In a speech at the rally before the protest, Faculty Council member Dana Cloud, associate communication studies professor, said she believes reports of the University being short on money are false.
“The administration has been somewhat on the ropes and has started to spin the situation of Shared Services, and our speakers will speak to kind of the mystification going around: That it’s not so bad, that we’ve listened to people, that we’ve adjusted according to input,” said Cloud, who is also a member of the Save Our Community Coalition. “I think [the protesters’] presence here today shows that’s pretty much bullshit.”
In an interview with The Daily Texan last month, Kevin Hegarty, vice president and chief financial officer, said he believes opponents of the plan do not understand that the University’s current business model is unsustainable.
“We’re getting starved on the academic end for dollars to hire teachers and retain people,” Hegarty said.
Protesters also referenced the University’s involvement with Accenture, a consulting firm the University paid more than $4 million to collect data for the Shared Services Steering Committee. Accenture’s contract with UT ended in February.
More than 100 faculty members signed a letter opposing Shared Services and submitted it to Powers earlier this month.
In April 2012, a nearly identical incident, involving members of the Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition, also led to 18 arrests. The members hosted a sit-in outside of Powers’ office, were told to leave by 5 p.m., declined to do so and were charged with criminal trespassing. In this case, members — some of whom were also arrested Wednesday, including Hinz-Foley — wanted the University to cooperate with the Worker Rights Consortium, an independent monitoring organization, when producing apparel.
Additional reporting by Julia Brouillette.