Bianca Hinz-Foley

Philosophy sophomore Jacek Prus is removed from the Main Building by APD officers after participating in a sit-in against Shared Services on Wednesday afternoon. Students sat in front of President William Powers Jr.’s office for various hours despite being told they would be arrested if they stayed in the office past 5 p.m. 

Photo Credit: Sam Ortega | Daily Texan Staff

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.

Photo Credit: Jenna VonHofe | Daily Texan Staff

Several hundred students, faculty and community members marched across campus in protest of the University’s Shared Services Plan, despite campus being closed for “winter weather” Friday.

The Shared Services Plan is a list of recommendations intended to save money by centralizing the University’s finance, human resources, procurement and information technology services. University officials predict that 500 jobs will be eliminated — primarily through natural attrition and retirement, according to officials — as a result of this centralization. 

The UT Save Our Community Coalition, a collection of student groups on campus including United Students Against Sweatshops, partnered with the Texas State Employees Union, the University Leadership Initiative and several other organizations to voice their concerns about UT’s partnership with management-consulting company Accenture for the implementation of the Shared Services Plan.

In 2006, the state outsourced the call centers for the state’s food stamps and Medicaid programs to Accenture in an effort to save money. The state terminated the contract in 2007 after issues with technical operations led to problems with benefit distribution.

Anne Lewis, senior radio-television-film lecturer and Texas State Employees Union Executive Board member, spoke at the protest about the importance of a community rallying together to preserve its ideals.

Lewis said a petition has been opened to UT faculty in opposition to the UT-Accenture plan. Lewis said between 400 and 500 signatures have been collected so far.

“I’m not sure if the petition will change anything,” Lewis said.

Plan II junior Bianca Hinz-Foley, spokeswoman for United Students Against Sweatshops, said around 300 people showed up to the protest, which was held on the eve of a two-day United Students Against Sweatshops national conference held in Austin. Hinz-Foley said her organization’s main goal is to convince the University to discontinue collaboration with Accenture.

“We’re calling on UT to cut ties with Accenture altogether,” Hinz-Foley said. “Accenture is the worst of the worst. It’s not that they’re inefficient, it’s that they’re fundamentally corrupt with their model.”

UTPD officers accompanied the protesters to ensure their safety and keep traffic unaffected, according to UTPD Capt. Gonzalo Gonzalez. Gonzalez said the protest was generally peaceful, but it did create a disturbance when protesters physically blocked the street traffic on Guadalupe, while dancing and chanting.

On Thursday, Kevin Hegarty, executive vice president and chief financial officer, responded to a resolution from Faculty Council asking for more information about the Shared Services Plan.

Hegarty agreed to add a non-administrative faculty member nominated by the Faculty Council Executive Committee to the Shared Services Steering Committee. He also included information about Accenture’s role in the plan.

Hegarty said Accenture worked with the Committee on Business Productivity, which recommended implementing Shared Services to the University. He said Accenture also played a role in gathering data for the steering committee to determine the potential success of implementing Shared Services at UT, a service that will be completed in February.

According to Hegarty, the combined cost of these services totals more than $4 million, but there is no current contract with Accenture for future services.

Four UT students took a trip across the border last weekend to see the impoverished lifestyle of factory workers and the struggles they face just four hours to the south as they push for better working conditions.

Philosophy senior Sophia Poitier, Plan II senior Sabina Hinz-Foley, Plan II sophomore Bianca Hinz-Foley and former UT student Yajaira Fraga traveled Friday to the border city of Ciudad Acuña, Coahuila, Mexico. There, they met with representatives from an automobile manufacturing plant owned by PKC Group that employs close to 8,000 people. Employees of the factory have received international media attention during the last few months as they have attempted to form a union and gain better working conditions and increased pay. The four students are members of the UT chapter of United Students Against Sweatshops, an international organization that advocates for workers’ rights.

Poitier said some of the factory workers invited the students to their homes, where they saw the dirty, cramped government or make-shift structures many of the workers pay a significant portion of their pay to live in. 

“I actually got to see what these people’s lives are like and that makes it much more real and much more urgent,” Poitier said. “It made me realize how important solidarity is for these workers, because not only are they working 10 hours a day, holding second jobs and taking care of children, but they are also organizing in their spare time.”

Poitier said, people in the UT community and the rest of the country are generally not aware enough of the living conditions that exist in Mexico.

Fraga agreed, saying most of the media attention on Mexico in the U.S. tends to focus on issues associated with the border.

“Obviously you hear and read things about Mexico, and they are never pretty,” Fraga said. “But you never get to read about the struggles that people go through day in and day out.”

Bianca Hinz-Foley said another goal of the trip was to encourage the workers and lend additional support to their struggle.

“One of our objectives as USAS students is to stand in solidarity with worker rights organizations that struggle to combat illegal and inhumane working conditions in their factories and workplaces in Austin and abroad,” Biana Hinz-Foley said in an email.

Poitier said the UT chapter of USAS will be focusing most of its efforts in the near future on an effort to get the University Co-op to purchase roughly $250,000 worth of apparel from a factory in Central America that has come to serve as an example of fair working conditions in an impoverished area.

“We want the Co-op to show that they care about the rights of factory workers,” Poitier said.

Printed on Friday, October 19, 2012 as: UT students visit Mexico, advocate for worker rights

The University attempted to arrange a Monday meeting with the student-led Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition but prohibited coalition supporters from entering the president’s office Tuesday.

At 10 p.m. on April 20, Dean of Students Soncia Reagins-Lilly called coalition member Carson Chavana, a geography senior who was not arrested last Wednesday, to set up a Monday meeting between her and President William Powers Jr., Chavana said.

The coalition agreed to the meeting on the condition that coalition leaders William Yates, an Asian Studies senior, and Bianca Hinz-Foley, a former student, be present, said Yates. Both Yates and Hinz Foley were arrested during last week’s sit-in, along with 16 others who refused to leave the building at 5 p.m.

“When a fair, democratic meeting that allows for appropriate representation and that does not have a preset agenda is offered on behalf of the administration, we, the Make UT Sweatshop-Free coalition, will be more than happy to accept,” Chavana said.

The President’s office refused to meet with Yates and Hinz-Foley because they do not want to encourage criminal behavior, said UT spokesman Gary Susswein.

“[Chavana] initially indicated a willingness to meet with President Powers but has since rejected the invitation, instead offering to meet President Powers off site, as part of larger group that includes a politician, union leader, the recently-arrested students and others, and only in the context of what she called ‘serious negotiations,’” Susswein said.

Yates said the administration was trying to rush a meeting so that they could claim to have met with the students and sweep the sweatshop controversy under the rug. Yates said Chavana alone could not represent the broad coalition or provide the President with in-depth information regarding conditions at factories producing UT apparel.

“The meeting would have been a sham,” Yates said.

Susswein said he was confused by the response to the proposed meeting because the group has been demanding a meeting with the president for over a year. The offer to meet with the President still stands and could be arranged for a later date, he said.

Susswein said the administration decided to lock the President’s office because of security concerns and to prevent further disruption of office staff.

Yates said the Tuesday lockout was indicative of the University’s larger response to the coalition’s message.

“This is really evident of how [the administration] is not ready to meet on this and how they are not taking students seriously,” Yates said. 

Students participate in the Make UT Sweatshop-Free CoalitionÂ’s lay-out protest in front of the tower Thursday afternoon. The group hoped to raise awareness for the working conditions in factories that produce University merchandise.

Photo Credit: Rebecca Howeth | Daily Texan Staff

Students chanted, “When workers are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back,” as they walked up the steps of the Main Building in an attempt to gain an audience with President William Powers, Jr. to protest UT’s apparel manufacturers.

Students with the Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition organized a lay-in protest on the Main Mall in order to raise student awareness of working conditions in factories that produce University apparel. After laying on the ground, they attempted to march to the President’s office to hand him a letter with their demands, but were met by Kathy Bartsch, executive assistant to the President, who said Powers was not available to receive them, but that she would relay their message.

The Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition is working in conjunction with United Students Against Sweatshops to ensure better working conditions in the factories that produce University apparel. The organization’s main demand of the University is that they switch from working with the Fair Labor Association, who currently inspects the factories that produce the apparel, to the Workers Rights Consortium, who they believe will produce unbiased reports of the conditions in the factories.

Bianca Hinz-Foley, plan II junior and United Students Against Sweatshops affiliate member at UT, said Coalition members have tried to voice their concerns to the administration in the past, but the responses have been less than accommodating.

“We have been left waiting to receive responses,” Hinz-Foley said. “We contacted donors and alumni to tell them it is not acceptable to ignore students and alumni called in with their concerns.”

Hinz-Foley said student responses to the protest have been relatively positive because students feel powerful when it comes to making a change.

“The group has grown tremendously since some of the protests,” Hinz-Foley said. “I think students like to be part of something that sees tangible victories like this.”

Geoscience senior Nathan Van Oort said they planned the lay-in in order to raise the administration’s awareness of their group’s demands this semester.

“We want to set a precedent for the administration for what to expect this semester,” Van Oort said. “We want them to know that they can’t ignore us.”

Van Oort said he wants students to learn they have a unique leverage to make a difference at the University.

“Students have the power to influence the administration with their demands,” he said. “I want them to take away a sense of passion and education on the matter and I believe doing actions will influence more than words.”

Sociology senior Melissa Tran, who happened to be walking by at the time of the protest, said she thought the protest was good because it brought awareness to something that students take for granted everyday.

“I think the protest will affect what you think about when you buy the clothes,” Tran said. “I think it will also change the mind-set of students.”