Updated: Feb 3
PROVIDENCE, R.I.,-- Following robust criticism from lawmakers throughout the state, Rhode Island College has cancelled its $76,000-a-week contract with a New York-based firm, Alvarez & Marsal.
The no-bid contract was awarded by the Postsecondary council in mid-December and was set to expire in February. The firm would be tasked with evaluating the college’s operations, enrollment and COVID-19 response and come up with recommendations to help the school’s financial situation.
In August of last year, Rhode Island College President Frank Sanchez said that the pandemic has “triggered one of the biggest fiscal challenges in Rhode Island College’s 166-year history.” Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the school saw an enrollment decrease of about six percent, which translated into a $6.1 million loss in tuition revenue.
In response to criticism of the contract, Tim DelGiudice, chair of the state’s Council on Postsecondary Education said, “In order to make recommendations for the FY2022 budget cycle, a plan needs to be created that generates efficiencies and prioritizes programs maintaining education outcomes. Because of the need for a quick turnaround together with subject matter expertise, A&M is the vendor best prepared for providing the analysis and recommendations in the time allotted.”
Chairman of the finance subcommittee on education, Gregg Amore, criticized the Postsecondary council’s choice to approve the no-bid council. Amore said “My understanding is that the funding for this contract is from CARES Act higher education discretionary funds so the funding did not come from appropriated funds but it is certainly connected to future budget requests and it certainly should have been in the public forum and open for discussion and questioning.” Amore also asserted that, “there was ample opportunity to present this plan to the House Finance Committee during the deliberations on the FY21 budget that was passed in mid-December.
Other Rhode Island lawmakers to criticize the contract were House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi, who called for the House Oversight Committee to look into the matter and Rep. William W. O’Brien who called the contract “a disgraceful use of taxpayer dollars.”
In a statement O’Brien said, “Why are we sending our money to New York while there are numerous highly compensated employees who are supposed to already be doing this work? Why are we hiring people who do not have the necessary skills to do their jobs, which then necessitates us to hire outside help? There is no doubt that changes need to be made at RIC but sending our crucial dollars outside our borders rather than helping our own residents is not the way to accomplish these goals.”
In a statement released on January 14 a spokesperson said the Department of Administration, the Council on Postsecondary Education and the Office of the Postsecondary Commissioner have decided to cancel the contract with Alvarez & Marsal. According to the statement, the firm will release their preliminary findings.
Robert Dulski, spokesperson for the Department of Administration said that the incoming McKee administration and the Council on Postsecondary Education will work with RIC to figure out how to proceed.