In an interview with The Texas Tribune on the day he was named chancellor of the Texas A&M University System, John Sharp said would-be higher education reformers had gone about things all wrong by targeting universities’ core functions: teaching and research.
“The first place you start is those things that support that core function,” he said. “The things that support the core function are everything from utilities to grounds maintenance, to food preparation, to all the things like that — from the chancellor’s office, the president's office, public relations, everything is there to serve those two things.”
Sharp has heeded his own advice. He is announcing in a meeting this morning that the flagship campus will put out requests for proposals for private companies to take over dining, landscape, building maintenance, and custodial services — news that already has some service employees fearing for their jobs.
University System spokesman Steve Moore said he understands the anxiety about this morning's announcement. “You can’t escape what’s happened in the past,” he said. “In the past, when they’ve had meetings like this, there have been some people laid off. And the purpose of this meeting might not have been clearly explained.”
But Moore said there’s no cause for alarm. He said not only is there no current talk of layoffs, but he suspects any new service contractors would, in most cases, prefer to keep the current employees.
The move is necessary, he said, because A&M is currently losing roughly $1 million each year by running its own dining services, which is no longer the norm. Other university campuses in the system, as well as many throughout the state, have already outsourced such services.
The news — which is a Sharp-led initiative, though university and system officials will work together to make final determinations about service providers — comes on the heels of news that Sharp has committed $5 million in discretionary system funds toward efforts to improve academic quality by kick-starting the Texas A&M University Institute for Advanced Study, which aims to bring in top-notch scholars from around the world.
“When I began this job, my first priority was to do everything we could to support faculty and research,” Sharp said. “I started with my staff and we are continuing the process.”
He went on to knock those who promoted a set of controversial higher education reforms known as the “seven breakthrough solutions,” which aimed to improve faculty productivity and emphasize teaching. They were championed by Gov. Rick Perry the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank. “The seven solutions guys have it wrong in starting with the faculty and researchers,” Sharp said.