Speaking Out

Lukasiak on Outsourcing

(Note: Replies from Mr. John Fry, Executive Vice President, and Ms. Karen Wheeler, Chair of the A-3 Assembly are below.)

In Almanac September 10, John Fry accused The Daily Pennsylvanian of being "inaccurate, misleading, and inflammatory" in its reporting on his plans to outsource Dining Services and Residential Living. But based on the public record, it is Mr. Fry himself who is guilty of those things.

In the Bookstore deal, there is no evidence that suggests that Mr. Fry engaged in any of the sort of consultative process that he says is essential before decisions are made. No "market analysis." No "consultative committee composed of faculty, administrators, and students." No request that University Council's Bookstore Committee examine and report on outsourcing the Bookstore. Virtually, nothing. One could fill up pages with statements from University officials concerning the need for consultation and serious analysis before decisions are made. One could even cite Mr. Fry's own words in the past regarding the importance of such consultations. But even a cursory examination of the Mr. Fry's actions reveal that those words are simply thatwords.

The evidence also indicates that Mr. Fry deliberately deceived University Council, and by extension the entire University community, in order to pursue his agenda without interference. Here are the facts.

The Coopers and Lybrand report released in January 1995 which Mr. Fry authored, does not mention outsourcing for the Bookstore. The University -wide committee charged with overseeing the Bookstore and its policies and mission, University Council's Bookstore Committee, has never (at least in recent memory) examined outsourcing to determine whether it is a viable and appropriate option for Penn's bookstore.

In his report on restructuring to University Council on October 11, 1995, Mr. Fry gave scant mention to the Bookstore at all, engaging in pleasant generalities about what a good job Business Services was doing, and how its "history of innovation" indicated that there were "very exciting prospects relative to....[the] Bookstore." There was no mention of outsourcing.

Fry's next report to Council on restructuring, on Feb 21, 1996, did provide a bit more of a focus on the Bookstore. Almanac described his remarks as:

The questions are how to transform its size, look, feel, and breadth of products and services. "Do we need to run it ourselves?"Mr. Fry asked. "How do we leverage expertise and replicate the success of super-stores?"

Less than two months later, Mr. Fry received the approval of the Trustees for the Barnes and Noble deal.

Only the most credulous of individuals would even consider the possibility that Mr. Fry would find the time to answer the "questions" he had presented, investigate various options, notify the players in the Bookstore industry that Penn was in the market to outsource its bookstore, evaluate the various proposals, and negotiate a contract with Barnes and Noble in that time period. In fact, because of the reference to a "super-store", it is pretty safe to assume that John Fry didn't have any more questions; that he had already made up his own mind. And it is equally safe to assume that Fry was actively engaged in negotiations while telling the University community that the process of evaluating Penn's options was just beginning. To put it bluntly, John Fry lied to University Council on February 21 in his progress report on restructuring.

To make matters worse, Fry decided without consulting the University Community that the property that was supposed to be the linchpin of Penn's developement of its north campus area, the site of the cancelled Revlon Center, would be dedicated to the exclusive use of a retail corporation.

From all indications, the outsourcing of the Bookstore was done in secret, and as quickly as possible. Although the University upper lever bureaucracy protected its own, and made sure that the top three Bookstore administrators had jobs, no consideration was given to the fate of the employees during the negotiations other than the vague promise that they would be considered for jobs at Barnes and Noble. No consideration was given to the possibility that the new Bookstore building could serve more than just Barnes and Noble, that it could house academic offices, or an interdisciplinary research center for the social sciences or humanities, or a genuinely useful space for student performances. Such considerations for the best use of the site were ignored.

The Bookstore deal is not the only place where John Fry has not used the consultation process that he claims is so valuable in making decisions. The "Reclassification Project Team" never had an A-3 member on it during the entire planning process, despite the repeated pleas that A-3s be included on the "team." When an A-3 was finally appointed to the "team," it was someone who was hand-picked by the administration, without the participation of the A-3 Board. In fact the A-3 Board was never even officially notified about the existence of the person on the "team," and only found out about it by chance.

And if proper consultation with employees had been done prior to the implementation of FinMIS, the fiasco that the new accounting system has resulted in would have been prevented. Everyoneexcept for upper level administratorsrecognized that Penn was completely unprepared to go on line with FinMIS on July 1st. The system had not been appropriately tested, the instruction manuals were incomplete, many absolutely necessary procedures had not even been outlined, and the software had not been customized to meet Penn's needs. FinMIS went on line not because it made any sense to do so, but because upper level University administrators had made a bad decision, and were not about to admit it.

Now John Fry wants us to believe that he is going to take consultation seriouslythat he hasn't already made up his mind about Dining Services, and had not already picked out the vendor. But the facts are these:

  1. No mention of any consultation or analysis of Dining Services was made prior to the reporting in The Summer Pennsylvanian that Fry was planning on outsourcing Dining Services.

  2. Fry himself announced his intention to target Dining Services for outsourcing at a meeting with a number of University officials

  3. Aramark's Vice-President for Marketing Development made it rather clear the negotiations had occurred. Fry says now that there are no ongoing negotiations.

  4. The negotiations had progressed to the point where Aramark had submitted a contract proposal for consideration to the University. It was rejected because it wasn't good enough.

  5. Aramark officials will no longer comment on the Dining Service situation, after being told not to by unnamed University officials.

  6. John Fry has decided on his own that outsourcing Dining Services is consistent with Penn's mission. Yet many people disagree with that for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that a Dining Service operation that is run by the University is by its very nature more responsive to students, and only a University run Dining Service is guaranteed to have the flexibility to meet the needs of the University as it works to achieve Provost Stanley Chodorow's goal of the integration of academics and student life.

  7. John Fry has retained complete control of the consultative process. He will be appointing the "external food service consultant" that will be "supporting" the consultative committee that will supposedly oversee the process. John Fry "will decide whether to have the University continue to operate Dining Services." And John Fry will make the decision regarding the choice of vendor.

  8. Although upper level adminstrators will be on the so-called "consultative committee" no representative of A-3 or unionized employees will be part of that committee. In essence, John Fry has stacked the deck; he has eliminated the people who are most motivated to thoroughly examine the issues, and demand that all alternatives are considered.

John Fry has mislead the University community, and has made inaccurate statements regarding the progress of outsourcing. And his statement that the DP's reporting was "inaccurate, misleading, and inflammatory" is inaccurate, misleading and inflammatory itself.

Penn is an academic community, not a corporation. It is the trustees, faculty, students, and staff of this school that are the heart of the University community; upper level administrators are not, and they should not be making decisions about the future of this academic community on their own. The University community owes it to itself to take a long, hard look at the entire process of restructuring, not just how it is being done, but what is being done, and what the implications are for the mission of the University. From all indications, restructuring will result in a central University bureaucracy that will have significantly more power over the Schools and academic departments. But, thanks to outsourcing, it will also be decidedly less responsive to the needs of students, faculty and (except for administrators) staff. Perhaps this is an appropriate direction for Penn in the 21st Century. But then again, perhaps not, and it is not a decision to be left up to adminstrators and bureaucrats.

-- Paul Lukasiak, Administrative
Assistant, School of Social Work

Mr. Fry responds:

So much of what is written in the above letter is inaccurate that it would be unproductive to dignify this diatribe by responding to each individual point. Suffice it to say that the Bookstore deal negotiated by Steve Murray and his colleagues after consultation with the Bookstore Committee[*] will provide Penn with one of the finest campus Bookstores in the country. The extensive food services study[*] led by Marie Witt in concert with VPUL and Cornyn Fasano will provide Penn with a comprehensive overview from which to design a campus food services program that is responsive to the vision articulated in the Plan for the 21st Century. And the FinMis undertaking co-chaired by Robin Beck and Ken Campbell, while currently experiencing the challenges we anticipated from such a massive transition, will position us effectively to deal with the University's needs in a much less paper-intensive environment.

-- John A. Fry,
Executive Vice President

A-3 Assembly's Ms. Wheeler adds:

Mr. Lukasiak's account of the A-3 Assembly Board's experience with the Classification Redesign Project* is not fully informed and should not be taken to represent the views of the Board or any of its members. The Assembly's co-chair Betty Thomas and I meet regularly with John Fry and Clint Davidson; I report regularly at the University Council and at Steering; and we speak out promptly and directly in our own names if we have a complaint.

To correct the record on the matter at hand:

It is true that when the Classification Redesign Team was announced ( Almanac March 26, 1996), there was no A-3 name on the list of team members. As soon as we mentioned this oversight, howeverand not after "repeated pleas"an A-3 person was added.

We were advised of this at the next consultation meeting, and we did not learn it "by chance."

We asked that the selection be treated as provisional until we had an opportunity to review the qualifications of the person chosen, and this was done.

-- Karen E. Wheeler
Chair, A-3 Assembly

[* ] The Bookstore Commitee's report is in this issue. In Compass Features, there is a Q&A from Human Resources, followed by a Compass summary on the beginning of the food services study mentioned above.Ed.]


Volume 43 Number 5
September 24, 1996

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