A reply to Dean Gilligan on Shared Service

Lucy Griswold

Despite the despairing cries of professors and students of the movement to corporatize institutions of higher learning, there is no debate that the business-ification of the ivory tower has proved incredibly, undeniably useful to students: They can now fill out student loan applications without assistance, have perfected the art of shading in bubbles on test forms and made the period freshman year during which they consider majoring in philosophy considerably shorter.  

At our own University, the latest iteration of corporatization is Shared Services, a cost-saving plan to centralize certain administrative functions that other participating universities have hailed as an opportunity to listen to even more hold-music while waiting to contact IT. The latest to argue in favor of the plan is McCombs School of Business Dean Thomas Gilligan, who did so in an Op-Ed piece published in this newspaper Thursday.

Some were flabbergasted that a business dean would advocate in favor of changes that replicate business practices, while others were simply surprised to see that a Sooner alumnus could write a coherent article. Most would agree, however, that Gilligan is out-of-touch with the technical turn the conversation has taken, offering up simple platitudes despite the fact that both sides are now using mathematics to support their respective arguments.

As someone who appreciates Gilligan’s time in the Reagan administration, however, I feel that it is my duty to explain some of Gilligan’s points, some of which may have been misinterpreted by those opposed to Shared Services. 

Gilligan has been criticized for asserting that a Shared Services system would “[increase] opportunities for administrative staff.” Opponents were curious how the plan, set to eliminate 500 positions and likely result in a more demanding workload for the staff who remain, would live up to this claim. They can stop wondering: the “administrative staff” Gilligan was referring to were not those facing attrition and relocation, but the set of managerial and executive administrators that the new Shared Services center will inevitably necessitate.  This supervisory staff will gain the opportunity to lead a team of subordinates and pad their resumes for future, more lucrative positions in the private sector. As for those who lose their positions, they will get the opportunity to enter the job market and receive a free, real-world lesson in supply and demand.

His hotly contested claim that Shared Services would result in “improvements in quality standards” also came under attack. Opponents of the plan pointed to testimonials from other universities, in which affected faculty and staff reported an increase in waiting periods for service and complicating a functional system. 

Again, critics are misinterpreting Gilligan’s words. Gilligan wrote that there would be improvements in service quality standards. Administrators love standards: writing them, talking about them, encouraging others to adopt them. All of this takes lots of work for executive-level administrators who have to spend precious time locating best practices, copy-pasting those practices and going to lush conferences to discuss those practices.  

Finally, many may have taken issue with Gilligan’s insistence that “Shared Services was not and is not an Accenture initiative.” Critics were surprised not only that Gilligan could effectively differentiate between the past and present tense, but that he would breeze over what opponents view as a close relationship, marked by cronyism and a lack of transparency.  Sure, Accenture executive Stephen Rohleder wrote an Op-Ed in the Austin American-Statesman recommending the program for the University before it even began, was proposed by a strategic planning committee led by Rohleder and incubated in a steering committee stacked with individuals with close ties to Accenture, but it is not an Accenture initiative.  

Dissenters will continue to argue that Gilligan, the second highest-paid administrator at UT, is supporting this plan because of the money he stands to make, in the form of donations to the business school and future lucrative deanships at colleges in need of a prudent leader. However, Gilligan isn’t stupid. If he wanted to work in the public sector and be rich, he would have been a football coach.

That Gilligan is so insistent on cutting administrative services in these “difficult” times and hasn’t considered taking a pay cut from his $541,500 salary isn’t hypocrisy; it’s capitalism in higher education. 

Opponents of Shared Services, please, put your protest signs down and go work your second part-time jobs. Shared Services is the future.  

Griswold is a government senior from Indianapolis.