All 28 employees from the Information Technology department at the University of St. Thomas were laid off Jan. 15 after UST partnered with Ellucian, a higher education technology firm. The layoffs included former Vice President for Planning and Technology Gary McCormack.
In an email to faculty on Jan. 15, UST President Richard Ludwick announced the decision was made after an audit of UST’s IT services, and wrote he “received a message loud and clear that a great leap forward change was necessary.” In an email to the Independent, Ludwick wrote that Ellucian offers high-level service and access to technology that would make us a top choice for students, but he did not provide a reason for the audit.
Glen Johnson, general manager of technology management at Ellucian for Texas, said UST’s IT employees will continue to hold their positions until March 16. However, he said current UST employees will be given priority consideration for available positions with Ellucian at UST, and that they can apply for these position through their website.
Nonetheless, one of the laid-off IT employees, David Garcia, said there are only 15 jobs posted on the website–not enough to employ everyone who lost their job. UST’s former IT employees are already working under Ellucian managers to see who best fits the positions, he said.
However, Johnson said UST’s IT team may be different from before. “Yes, we may manage St.Thomas with less IT people than what currently St.Thomas manages it as,” Johnson said. “That is a reality; we wouldn’t be here if it was all being done right and everyone in IT was perfect.”
The Director of Marketing and Communication Jeff Olsen said letting the IT employees go was difficult.
“The decision was hard because it is people’s lives, but change is going to bring a lot of positive things forward for the University,” Olsen said.
Garcia said he is unsure about applying for a position with Ellucian. He is also a business administration student at UST and said the workload within the IT department has been increasing, so he has had less time to pursue his degree.
“I looked at the website and I didn’t really see anything that I want to do, but I’ll figure it out,” Garcia said.
Garcia said he felt blindsided by the switch to Ellucian.
He said he knew the IT department wasn’t perfect, but that it was making an effort to fix problems.
“The team and I created a website for students and faculty to help navigate information technology better,” he said, “and six months after posting it, I was told by my boss to shut it down.”
According to Garcia, communication between the IT staff and McCormack was “not the best.”
“The team was never notified on what was expected of them,” he said.“If we had known their expectations, we could have tried to meet them.”
The Independent attempted to contact McCormack for a comment but was unable to reach him at the time of publication.
Garcia called the decision to hire Ellucian “bittersweet,” because many former IT employees wanted to see improvements in UST’s technology.
“I really do think this decision will be better for the students and for the school, but I wish it would have played out differently,” Garcia said.
According to Ludwicks email to faculty, Ellucian’s responsibilities include leadership, management and day-to-day operations. He wrote that their major responsibilities are to set up IT governance, conduct technology strategic planning, monitor cyber-security, provide a 24/7 help desk support for all and create business process improvements.
Ellucian also works with universities such as Houston Baptist University, Texas Southern University and St. Edward’s University.
This whole thing reeks of ill-preparedness. The proper way to do this would have been to have Ellucian come in months in advance and consult with everyone, figure out what the university really needs from the IT department, and forming a proper plan and budget. Instead, the IT department was given NO warning, only a short head’s up for a last minute morning meeting telling everyone they are about to lose their jobs, then an email was sent informing the campus community about the decision before they even ended the meeting.
Apparently the new administration sees fit to slash the IT staff in half, and expect them to do more with less people. YES, that’s exactly what the university needs. Let’s take an already bare bones department, and shave it down even more and then most likely heavily rely on outsourced call centers and resources who have no connections, and not a care in the world about our faculty and student body. I get that changes needed to be made. Although this was handled completely backwards.
Here are two excerpts pulled from our Basilian core values “Although a Catholic university is primarily focused on intellectual achievement (knowledge), it also cultivates, where appropriate, other aspects of the human person, especially the spiritual and moral dimensions (which are related to discipline and goodness).” How was this a moral decision? How is this a decision based on goodness? How much thought was put into this about how this would deeply effect the lives of staff that has been here for most of their careers? People who care and have stayed through countless ups and downs at this place. Think about that. What kind of fearful example does this set for other campus staffed departments? For our faculty? How in the world do they expect fear based motivation to work? “We educate students to think critically, communicate effectively, succeed professionally, lead ethically” but our own leaders cannot do the same? It’s laughable.
In Dr. Ludwick’s inauguration speech he stated “There is distrust. There is internal strife. There is fear and there is doubt – all of those are present here. But we will not be defined by that darkness. No! Indeed, we will pray for those that have that doom and we will act, and we will become a beacon of light for all. And we will do that by building a Culture of Encounter.” Although since his arrival, he has done little to erase the doubt and has actually created a more fear based culture, which of course no one is going to do anything about because everyone is scared. This is a whole new era of doom and doubt. He talks a big game, but is too business to really dig down to the core and see the bigger picture of what’s really happening here. Too business to have taken 5 steps back and carefully and tactfully handle a very delicate situation involving 28 lives of people who actually care and give a damn about this place and have weathered this place through its years of no raises, and crappy moral.
I once loved this place. It meant a lot to me. It’s now turning into one huge dumpster fire. I feel that one day the way this place is heading it will be an embarrassment to even have a degree from here. Don’t even get me started on how we are so antiquated that we cannot evolve and really connect to our student body and keep enrollment up, but I digress.
The university hasn’t always made the best decision with its presidents. We went from smoke and mirrors to cloak and dagger. Maybe one day the board will choose someone who is actually well rounded to lead this University.
Most of the IT areas as that I know of were installing, running and supporting multiple intricate, complex systems on a skeleton crew. A tight as budget as it can get. Let’s see how it goes now. Do they have a bigger budget or what? Hmm.
Speaking as a long term faculty member, this is quite simply the most EVIL thing I’ve ever seen perpetrated in my professional career and it’s happening right here under our own noses on our own campus. I sat down and talked to an IT staff member who was so afraid to talk that I had to not only guarantee their anonymity, but mine as well because of our connection, which is why I’m posting this anonymously. I got the real unfiltered story. Here’s what you’re not being told:
The understaffed and under-resourced IT department was given literally 15 minutes notice to report to a meeting to hear “important news” where our new and illustrious president dispassionately told all IT members that Gary, their VP, had been let go as of that morning and Ellucian was now in charge of IT leadership. The president, who preaches about a fearless approach to leadership apparently got off the microphone as soon as he was able because he immediately turned the meeting over to Randy, our head of HR.
Apparently, Randy was to explain to all of the IT employees who managed to show up on 15 minutes notice that not only were they being outsourced, but they were not getting their severance pay. Their “severance” package included a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) that forces them not to disclose any of these details, which is why I’m doing. They need their severance and I’m not being forced to sign a NDA (yet).
Furthermore, they were told that their “severance” was that they were being “allowed to work through March 15,” but they would only get THAT severance if they agreed to sign the NDA. Did you catch that? They don’t get an actual severance. They have to WORK THROUGH THEIR SEVERANCE, which is exactly what most of the staff members are being forced to do right now. So, not only are we letting them go in the most dispassionate way possible, we’re asking them to work through the time we should have given them to find another job. Also, how is WORKING THROUGH YOUR SEVERANCE even legal? I can only suspect our new lawyer-president is behind that particular bit of brilliance.
Is this who we are as a university? As an employer? Is this who we are as compassionate Catholics and Christians? I do not believe how any of this was handled represents the spirit of the university or am I just that out of touch?
To Randy’s credit, I’m told he was barely able to keep composure while he was delivering this message as our president stood at the back of the room, emotionless, to oversee the rest of the meeting. Randy was apparently clearly visibly upset by this, in that he was holding back tears. I would have been too if I were asked to do something so thoroughly insidious.
The Ellucian leadership themselves, clearly uncomfortable and ill-prepared, admitted that this is NOT how they normally do business. Normally, they would have been given months of time to do a thorough analysis. That was not the case. They were apparently given so little notice that they didn’t even have time to prepare proper remarks as both leaders were so nervous they actually said things like “we don’t have enough jobs for everyone in the room” and then rambled about how great their new wireless airpods were and how great the food is in Houston. How’s that for professional and compassionate?
The Ellucian leadership was completely unprepared for this to the point that they didn’t even have adequate position descriptions prepared or a staffing plan in place when they were addressing IT and on one occasion they were told by Ellucian leadership that they would be “playing a game of musical chairs” to see who was going to get the available positions. They even said they were forced to post “generic” position descriptions because the president had not given the adequate time to prepare. This is how we’re compassionately handling a department with many members who have served the university faithfully for 10+ years? How can we let this stand on our watch?
In one of the many subsequent closed-door meetings between Ellucian leaders and IT-staff actually raised his voice to ALL of our noble collected staff members proclaiming, “This is MY CONTRACT and you people need to START DRINKING THE KOOLAID or you will not have a place in my house!” This is the kind of leadership we’ve replaced Gary with? This is the kind of leadership we want on our campus? We want leaders who openly threaten long-term staff?
Ellucian also told everyone that they would be hiring all of the meager 15 positions they’ve provisioned for our nearly 30 staff members from existing IT staff, but even that proved to be a deception. I have it on good authority that Ellucian publicly posted all of the positions available before a single offer had been made to an existing staff member…. Not on their public website as would have been required by law, but their positions were available on 3rd party recruiting sites as if they were actively trying to fill the positions with non-UST staff in spite of their promise. Again, lies and deception from leadership.
It’s also been said that Ellucian is looking at outsourcing our current Facility department as soon as they get IT thoroughly leashed. Howard, I hope you’re reading this. Tell your people to brush off their resumes because you guys are likely next. Ellucian has already taken over facilities operations at several of their other campuses. Who’s after that? Soon we may just be a campus 3 or 4 faculty members running around an Ellucian campus. Are we so afraid of change that we have to sell out to these corporate vampires?
This is NOT in the spirit of the St Thomas I have known and loved all these years. We have a fox in the hen house. Actually, it seems like we might have several foxes in leadership now if this is how Ellucian is going to behave and treat our employees.
In the following weeks our staff members have been made to compete against each other cut-throat style for a very limited number of positions. It’s been compared to being a survival game show punctuated by interviews and suits and the occasional walk-through by new leadership trying to figure out how they’re going to slice up the soon-to-be ghost town of Murphy Hall. And, apparently, several staff members have been told that NO senior leadership from the current IT department is being retained. So much for retaining our long-term expertise. Get ready for a rocky road, indeed without experienced hands on the wheel anymore… That is unless you actually trust “our new friends at Ellucian.”
Also, little known fact, at least three IT staff members have children who are currently attending here, and should they not surviving the game of musical chairs going on in the department their children will be forced to withdraw after the end of the term. Apparently we’re not even giving educational benefits to any new Ellucian employees or their dependents. So much for being an attractive workplace to competitively attract new employees. Sorry, we’re a university, but we dont believe in educating and growing our own people anymore? This makes no sense to me.
The university clearly needs change. We are struggling. Struggle is life and we must go through that rite of passage and come out the other side, but do we have to sacrifice our compassion and humanity while we do it? No, we do not. I do not have the power to do this alone, but I ask the faculty and (remaining) staff to call for a vote of no-confidence in this new president. He does not represent who we are and that message needs to be delivered loudly and clearly or else we may all be having interviews with Ellucian and drinking kool aid very soon.
I have been watching this unfold from the perspective of one of my longtime friends in the IT department and frankly its the last straw for me. If this is what to expect from our illustrious president then frankly i will show my support by cutting off my donations to the school until we have a new one. I doubt my meager contribution will be missed, but I urge others to make a statement as well, in whatever fashion they see fit.