UT trustees grumble about ‘slaps in the face’ to Haslam outsourcing plans

Members of the University of Tennessee board of trustees have slammed a decision by UT Knoxville Chancellor Beverly Davenport to not participate in facilities outsourcing even though Davenport argued the university wouldn’t save as much by privatization as promised, reports the News Sentinel.

In a presentation to the board (Friday), Davenport said UT Knoxville would only save $906,654 in the first year of outsourcing with private company Jones Lang LaSalle, compared to the $5.2 million the company estimated.

The university is already making its own improvements in efficiency; an outside company would not be able to handle the complexity of work associated with facilities management in research departments and the change could be harmful to the local economy, Davenport listed as additional reasons for her decision.

Trustees criticized the decision saying it lacked financial justification and would make it hard to go to the state to ask for money in the future.

Outsourcing of facilities work on college campuses is part of a plan by Gov. Bill Haslam to expand an existing state contract with JLL for what was originally estimated to be an additional $35 million in annual cost savings across the state.

“I’m not worried that this governor and (Finance and Administration Commissioner Larry Martin) will do the right thing in the best interest of the UT system, regardless of the slaps in the face that we gave them,” said board Vice Chair Raja Jubran in a statement read at Friday’s board meeting. “They are committed to the state. They are committed to the right thing whether we do the wrong thing or not.”

Jubran and other members of the board were mainly critical of Davenport’s decision to not outsource facilities work at that campus, though the UT Health Science Center in Memphis also stood to save close to 10 percent of its facilities budget but is choosing to only use some of the services offered by JLL.

…Trustee Sharon Pryse said that while she appreciated Davenport keeping in mind the impact on the community, the university’s primary duty should be to its constituents and that rejecting the proposal could be a hindrance to fundraising.

“We work long and hard to raise dollars and we have to make sure we are spending our dollars as efficiently as possible when we are going to donors and asking for more money,” she said. “I wish you could prove we are actually saving dollars by doing this.”

Trustee Brad Lampley said the decision will also make it hard for the university to approach the state and ask for additional funding.

“They’ll say, ‘Wait, you had $5.2 million in savings and you said, ‘Thanks but no thanks,'” Lampley said. “My concern is that unless we find a way to save similar amounts of money we could have problems down the road. This is a campus decision and I absolutely support that, but it’s a concern.”

A non-binding recommendation was made at the suggestion of Trustee John Tickle, who asked that UT President Joe DiPietro issue a directive to each campus to come up with the savings indicated in the JLL proposals.

…DiPietro, meanwhile, said he respects the campus leaders’ decisions and would not suggest that they back down from them. However, he said it is important that they are held accountable for cost savings.

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