Students and staff voice opposition to committee's cost-cutting recommendations

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Miguel Ferguson, a Professor from the School of Social Work at UT along with fellow panel members Anne Lewis, Michelle Uche, and moderator Lucian Villasenor discuss their opposition to proposed cost raises and employee cutbacks cited in a privatization plan at the Union Wednesday evening.

Photo Credit: Emily Ng | Daily Texan Staff

Student groups and members of the Texas State Employees Union gathered in the Texas Union Building on Wednesday to voice their opposition to a plan by a committee working for President William Powers Jr.

The plan, released Jan. 29 and titled “Smarter Systems for a Greater UT,” proposes cost hikes on food, housing and other services, employee cutbacks and increased uses of assets like UT’s power plant, which it claims could create a combined $490 million for the University. Powers also spoke on the plan at the time of its release.

“We’re not at all convinced that the University is going to save money by this deal,” said Anne Lewis, radio-television-film senior lecturer and representative for the Texas State Employees Union.

Lewis said she is afraid that housing, food and parking will be privatized, a possibility that the committee raised in its report. Should they be privatized, Lewis said, employees would suffer and so would service.

“We really believe there’s some very big questions about the quality of service [for students] given the profit model operating in what is a nonprofit institution,” she said.

She said she believes the cutbacks could be self-defeating, as worker performance in areas like housing and food were affected by reduced pay.

Miguel Ferguson, a social work associate professor who also spoke at the event, said he believed the University can find the money it needs elsewhere in its budget.

“It doesn’t seem right that we can spend millions on a jumbotron and yet not have enough money to pay a decent wage and provide some decent benefits,” Ferguson said. “Our own interest is in having a healthy workforce here on campus ... it seems unconscionable that those are the very people we seek to burden and shift the cost on their backs.”

Michelle Uche, a student representative of the International Socialist Organization, questioned the benefit of raising prices on UT students. Uche pointed to proposed price hikes, like proposals to increase campus parking and food prices to market rates. The committee recommended a 5 percent per year increase for 10 years on food prices and a 7.5 percent per year increase for 15 years on parking prices.

“One issue that comes up frequently with students I talk to is that ‘The increases will be manageable,’” Uche said. “It’s going to be a big deal for people who are attending the University after us.”