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OU Health Sciences Center landscaping faces possible privatization after cuts

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Landscapers with plants (copy)

Landscapers work on the South Oval on March 28.

Editor’s note: This story uses quotes and information from a source who wished to remain anonymous due to this story’s sensitive nature. The identity of the source, referred to here as Jack Walter, is known to The Daily.

After five employees from the OU Health Sciences Center were terminated Feb. 7, some say OU President James Gallogly’s justifications for their firing were untrue.

The five positions — assigned to turf management — accounted for 29 percent of the campus landscaping department and were terminated due to changes in the campus’ landscaping requirements, a university spokesperson said. In a Feb. 7 interview with The Daily, Gallogly said the majority of these positions were seasonal workers and that the university was “paying for a lot of those folks to sit around and wait for the summer to come spring planting season.”

Jack Walter, a source with knowledge of the situation, said there is still work for the landscapers to do in the wintertime like trimming trees, blowing leaves, mulching leaves, snow and ice removal, pruning and picking up litter.

“For him to say they were just sitting around and students were just paying them to do nothing ... It’s insulting, and it’s just not true,” Walter said.

Former landscaper and gardener Ivan Wright was terminated in the recent layoffs and also said there was still work to do during the winter, and said even when there was inclement weather, employees worked in the greenhouse.

“(The work) was steady,” Wright said.

Walter said the university is planning on outsourcing turf management by putting out a bid to solicit offers from private companies. He worries that the recent reduction in staff will justify further privatization of the department and said these reductions are “closer to 50 percent” of OUHSC landscaping compared to last year due to positions that have remained unfilled.

“(The department was) stretched thin to begin with, and then this will make it almost impossible, almost impossible,” Walter said. “It pretty much guts the department. I think it sets (the department) up for failure ... So my fear is that this is just piecemeal privatization — (the landscaping department is) the first step in that.”

University spokesperson Lauren Brookey said in an email that there have been no decisions made “regarding using or not using outside contractors” regarding landscaping, but Walter said he thinks from here the university will privatize departments like housekeeping and other service units.

According to a statement from Gallogly the day of the layoffs, the 28 positions terminated — mainly from the HSC’s landscaping department and Information Technology —  will save the university about $2 million annually. However, Walter said since the university will hire out the services for landscaping at the HSC, “there’s no guarantee that those bids will be cheaper than what (the department) could have provided.”

Brookey said the possibility of privatization of landscaping is “premature” due to the recent appointment of Eric Conrad as vice president of operations. Conrad’s official start date is Feb. 25, according to an OU Info statement.

“The question is premature in light of the expectation that the new Operations Vice President will evaluate and make decisions about future maintenance and operations needs,” Brookey said.

 

news managing editor

Jordan Miller is a journalism and political science junior serving as The Daily's news managing editor. Previously she served as The Daily's spring 2019 news editor, fall 2018 assistant visual editor and was an SGA beat reporter.

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