CUNY Board of Trustees tables vote on $3 million McKinsey proposal after criticism

Michael Elsen-Rooney, New York Daily News
·3 min read

CUNY’s Board of Trustees Monday tabled a vote on a controversial proposal to hire the consulting giant McKinsey and Company to help develop a plan to reopen campuses after fierce pushback from politicians and union officials.

The proposal — which would’ve paid McKinsey $3 million for plans due in mid-June — was set for a vote at the university’s Board of Trustees meeting Monday night, but was pulled from the agenda in the wake of mounting criticism. University officials didn’t immediately specify why the proposal was pulled or if and when it will come up for another vote.

In a scathing letter to the Board of Trustees before the meeting Monday, CUNY staff union officials blasted the proposal as financially irresponsible, unnecessary, and tone-deaf.

“The proposal to spend $3 million on a contract with a for-profit consulting firm to do the work CUNY managers are paid handsomely to do is outrageous,” wrote Professional Staff Congress president Barbara Bowen.

Bowen argued the move was particularly questionable when some staffers are still waiting for promised raises that the university withheld this year amid financial strife.

“Such an expenditure completely undermines any claim the CUNY administration plans to make about not having enough money to fix even simple problems like bathroom sinks that have no running water,” Bowen fumed.

CUNY’s campuses have stayed mostly online this school year, but were expected to develop their own plans to bring students back to campus this Fall. In a proposal released late last week, university officials proposed paying McKinsey nearly $3 million to help the colleges with their individual plans and pull together a master plan for the whole university.

The plan quickly sparked criticism from CUNY staffers and elected officials.

Bowen questioned the need to procure outside help on reopening plan when the university has leading experts in health and industrial hygiene already on its payroll.

“Few workplaces contemplating reopening have the internal resources available at CUNY: a Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy; faculty and emeritus faculty who pioneered the field of industrial hygiene and trained many of the current experts in the discipline, leading scholars and researchers on industrial hygiene, and faculty and staff who have spent years gaining expertise on the environmental safety and health needs of our unique university, with our students, in our urban setting,” she wrote.

Bowen also questioned the choice of McKinsey, pointing to its work with pharmaceutical giant and Purdue, and in writing the now-infamous state report on nursing home deaths that’s now the subject of a federal investigation.

“The choice of McKinsey suggests a dangerous lack of judgment,” she said, adding it “will accomplish exactly the opposite of what should be the goal of CUNY’s reopening plans: ensuring that faculty, staff and students can return to campus with confidence.”

CUNY officials said they solicited proposals from two firms for consulting work on campus reopening plans, and ultimately chose McKinsey’s based on its expertise and flexibility. Bowen said the “selection of McKinsey was made without the normal bidding process. The University community has received no details about how the $2,974,800 price tag was reached.”

Bowen argued university officials should instead engage with faculty and student groups in a process ”that will respect the months of work that have already been completed on campuses ... and a process that will not cost three million dollars.”