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 firstname.lastname@example.org (both of which are anonymous) to voice your concerns about the effects of reengineering on MIT's work force.