While campuses cut classes, raise fees, furlough employees, and lay off instructors, they have been hiring outside firms to help them restructure. A few months ago, Berkeley announced that it would pay Bain and Company $3 million to suggest ways to reduce the Cal budget, and now UCLA has hired the Huron Consulting Group to assist in the campus’ restructuring. Not only should we question the cost of bringing in outside firms to perform tasks that could be handled internally, but we need to ask about the role of shared governance when an outside group is hired to make important decisions that will affect all aspects of the university.
One has to wonder if the administrators who hired Huron looked into this firm’s recent past. As Chicago Business reported last summer, this consulting group has been in disarray since it admitted to its own false reporting of internal profits. It turns out that this company, which is supposed to investigate the finances of other companies, has been misrepresenting its own finances on a regular basis: “Huron said it would restate results for the three years ended in 2008 and for the first quarter of 2009, resulting in a halving of its profits, to $63 million from $120 million, for the 39-month period.” We are not talking here about a small one-time accounting error; rather, this accounting firm has consistently misrepresented its own earnings, and the story gets much worse.
The reason why Huron had to admit to its habit of inflating earnings is that someone found out that thre was a secret agreement between Huron and the shareholders of the companies it was restructuring: “The company said its hand was forced by its recent discovery that holders of shares in acquired firms had an agreement among themselves to reallocate a portion of their earn-out payments to other Huron employees. The company said it had been unaware of the arrangement.” After Huron revealed in the summer of 2009 that it had participated in this kick-back scheme, its stock went down 70%, and it replaced its entire management team.
The Huron Group was created from the remnants of the Arthur Anderson firm after the Enron scandal, and Reuters has reported that many experts believe that the corrupt culture of the old firm has found its way into the new company. Just as Anderson concentrated on maximizing their own fees at the expense of the companies it was investigating, Huron appears to be profiting by forcing companies to pay them off while they are restructuring their business practices.
According to another business news outlet, the SEC is currently investigating Huron for the way it bill its clients,and while one of the main functions of this firm is to make sure that institutions follow accounting laws and regulations, they are now facing numerous investigations and lawsuits.
Some UC faculty might be interested to know that the head of the company, who has been forced to step down, has been accused of forcing employees to contribute to Mitt Romney’s run for president, and the management has had its own inflated compensation requests rejected by the company’s shareholders.
Didn’t UCLA looked into any of these issues when they decided to hire Huron to restructure the campus? It only took me a few minutes of using Google to find several articles documenting this company’s questionable practices and horrible reputation. We have to ask why didn’t any of the highly compensated administrators sitting on the new restructuring committee examine this company before they committed to paying a large sum of money to do the job they should be doing themselves in the first place.