What's Wrong With ReEngineering at MIT?

by Jonathan W. Fox

It should be no surprise to you that the pundits who came up with the
revolutionary slogan "reengineering," Michael Hammer and James Champy,
both obtained MIT degrees before they developed their system for
"revitalizing" corporate America. Their reengineering formula is now
being applied to the administration of MIT, in order, according to its
proponents, to improve the administration's relationship with its
"customers:" staff, students, and faculty. The "formula" is prescribed
in their seminal book, Reengineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for
Business Revolution, as "the fundamental rethinking and radical
redesign of business processes to achieve dramatic improvement in
contemporary measures of performance..." What may surprise you,
though, is that the MIT administration's reengineering effort tears
the fabric of the very community it professes to protect.
	By narrowly defining the MIT community along elitist lines,
the administration has marginalized entire segments of the community
in the reengineering effort, including workers, staff, students, and
untenured faculty. For example, the Steering Committee, commissioned
by President Vest, is led by Senior Vice President William Dickson,
and consists only of MIT's other vice presidents, the executive vice
president of the Alumnae/i Association, and the dean of
engineering. Some members of the MIT community, such as temporary
workers, are not represented at all. Certainly, the administration
does not consider the thirty workers from the soon to be shut-down
Office of Laboratory Supplies (OLS) as members of the MIT
community. As of July 1st, some of these workers will be out on the
street, and will be joined by many others, as anticipated by the
initiators of the reengineering process. As they have stated: "to the
extent that it is possible, work force reduction resulting from the
redesign of work will be accomplished through attrition. However,
layoffs will also be necessary." By laying off workers, the
administration is sending out a message loud and clear: job security
doesn't exist-unless you are one of the lucky tenured faculty-for
workers at MIT!
	David Gay, the president of the Research, Development and
Technical Employees Union (RDTEU), which represents about 800 workers
at MIT, including Draper and Lincoln Laboratories, says that not only
have his members been shut out of the reengineering process, but
neither the upper management nor President Vest will meet with him to
discuss workers rights under reengineering. The situation is similar
for the other major union that represents workers at MIT, Local 254
(an AFL-CIO affiliate).
	These two unions represent a large portion of the work force
at MIT and stand to lose a lot from the reengineering process. For
example, of the thirty workers at OLS, fourteen are represented by the
RDTEU. In a move of questionable ethics, MIT's new private laboratory
supply company, VWR Scientific, interviewed several employees of OLS,
who are represented by RDTEU, for job openings before they were
officially laid off. This action undermines the union, as the new
positions at VWR are not unionized. Some workers believe that
replacing union jobs with lower-paying temporary jobs is the real
imperative underlying the "reengineering" process. Whether MIT
explicitly condones this type of union busting or not doesn't really
matter, the effect is the same either way: workers lose their power to
organize under the labor laws and fight for decent pay, job security,
and benefits.
	The human resource principles (Tech Talk, 1 May 1995) that
were adopted by the reengineering Steering Committee show MIT's
disregard for its own employees, and working people in general. These
"principles" call for laying off workers first, and then hiring them
back only if they have the skills necessary to fit into the new
structure. This is not what Hammer and Champy advocate when they call
for changing the values both of the company and of the workers. They
say that an "organization's management systems-the ways in which
people are paid, the measures by which their performance is evaluated,
and so forth-are the primary shapers of employee's values and
beliefs." Thus, if the MIT reengineers (a.k.a. management) actually
mean what they say about protecting the community, they should not lay
off workers at all; doing so will destroy morale.
	MIT should invest in its workers by providing them with other
job options within the Institute, and with the requisite training for
those jobs. Some of these workers could fit the role that temporary
workers currently fill, with a twist: they could be full and part time
permanent employees who float around campus. The members of this "temp
team" should be provided with the benefits that all workers
deserve. How could the Institute afford it? By simply doing away with
the broker, the Sterling/Olsten Temp Agency, they could both afford to
pay these workers what they are worth, and provide them with
benefits. Earlier this year, MIT gave Sterling/Olsten the lucrative
designation of primary supplier for all of its temporary worker
needs. Two other options that David Gay said workers would be
interested in pursuing are for MIT to provide an early retirement
package for the aging workers that want it, and for MIT to buy some of
the workers out. Both of these options can be cost-effective in the
long run (which is what President Vest purports to be interested in)
and can help keep morale high among the community while realizing
reductions in the total number of workers.
	Companies and corporations, like MIT, that are in peak
condition and are at a point of prominence-for example, Wal-Mart and
Hallmark (two companies that MIT managers like to compare MIT
with)-are in their own reengineering category. As Hammer and Champy
say, "Companies in this category see reengineering as an opportunity
to further their lead over their competitors. By enhancing their
performance, they seek to raise the competitive bar even higher and
make life even tougher for everyone else." President Vest echoed this
theme to MIT's Quarter Century Club when he said the Institute's
reengineering effort "will be pure MIT: think big, analyze ourselves,
act on what we learn, and show the rest of the academic world how to
do it." If this is true, and if MIT is going to set a precedent for
academic institutions nationwide, shouldn't it do what is right by
being cognizant of the human needs of its workers? If not, MIT will
surely make life tougher for workers, here and elsewhere in the
academic world as other institutions follow MIT's reengineering
formula.
	Call and leave voice mail at 252-1700 or send email to
workout@mit.edu (both of which are anonymous) to voice your concerns
about the effects of reengineering on MIT's work force.

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