Trustees back double spending on 'diversity suppliers'

Trustees back double spending on 'diversity suppliers'

CHICAGO — The University of Illinois would double its spending with businesses owned by minorities, women and people with disabilities under a new mission statement adopted by UI trustees.

If achieved, the goal would mean another $75 million of purchases going to "diversity suppliers" for everything from construction services to medical supplies or auditing services.

The goal is part of a new mission statement approved Thursday by UI trustees, who have pushed to increase the university's business with diverse vendors over the last 18 months.

Under the new goal, 20 percent of the $748.5 million in allowable university spending would go to diverse vendors, double the amount spent in 2011, officials said.

Vendors would have to be certified under the state's Minority and Female Business Enterprise Program, known as MAFBE, or certified as "diversity vendors" by state and other governmental bodies.

The MAFBE program was created to ensure that businesses owned by minorities, women and people with disabilities are included in the procurement process. MAFBE vendors must be certified by the state and have an annual sales volume of less than $75 million; there are no sales restrictions for firms to qualify as a "diversity supplier."

The MAFBE law applies only to purchases made with state funds, but the new goal will be applied to all eligible university purchases.

"We're increasing not only the pie that we're going to measure against, but we're also increasing the vendors," said Michael Bass, senior associate vice president for capital programs and real estate services.

The goal would be reviewed periodically, depending on the number of qualified businesses in the area.

UI staff will contact businesses about the program and educate employees about the new goals, Bass said.

Consultants also recommended that the UI create a new office of supplier diversity and devote seven full-time employees and one part-time employee to the effort, compared to the two assigned to the MAFBE program now. That would include a central director to promote coordination among the campuses.

Bass said the UI can likely cover most of the positions by reassigning existing employees or using money already budgeted for the program. Those decisions will be made by the end of March, he said.

Trustees hired a consultant to review the MAFBE program in late 2010, after a review showed that MAFBE participation had been flat for several years — under 3 percent of eligible purchases.

In fiscal 2011, payments to MAFBE vendors increased by almost $11 million, to nearly $32 million, or 4.2 percent. And contracts with other diversity suppliers brought the total up to about 10 percent, Bass said.

The university will also determine whether a separate goal should be created for small businesses owned by military veterans and disabled veterans. A new state law stipulates that 3 percent of state procurement contracts be awarded to those vendors, but the UI is waiting for the state to develop rules for the program.

Also Thursday, trustees approved a construction manager for a $70 million renovation of the Natural History Building, 1301 W. Green St., U, which has been partially closed for a year and a half because of structural problems.

Barton Malow Co. of Chicago was hired at a total cost of $3.84 million to manage the project, which is expected to wrap up by the fall of 2015.

About 40 percent of the building was closed in the summer of 2010 after engineers determined some of the floors were structurally insufficient, and some classrooms and labs had to be combined or moved to other buildings.

Since then, the university and Champaign firm BLDD Architects have come up with conceptual plans to renovate its classrooms, laboratories and offices, and update mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems.

The 148,000-square-foot building, just east of the Illini Union, dates back to 1892 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It's home to the School of Earth, Society and Environment, and the School of Integrative Biology.

The project will be funded by a combination of student fees, university institutional funds and donations, with the hope that the state may contribute money eventually.

In December, the board approved an amendment with BLDD Architects to manage the design, bidding, construction documents and other phases of the project, at a cost of $3.2 million. Designs are expected to be complete by January 2013.

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jerrysbear wrote on January 21, 2012 at 6:01 pm

For a university and state that has been having such great financial troubles, I would hope that they would just buy from the cheapest supplier that provides a sufficient product.

cretis16 wrote on January 22, 2012 at 12:01 pm

This is the mindset that effects our schools from K-UNiv. Why should the taxpayers pay more for supplies, simply to "give" business to minorites? The Big Broadband Giveaway is another example. Racism has many faces...

wam wrote on September 19, 2012 at 9:09 am

This approach is precisely why the cost of higher education has raced ahead of the inflation rates over the last decade. While the goal of including minority owned businesses in State contracts is important, hiring a consultant and seven new staff members is a ridiculous approach. It shows ZERO leadership....and, declaring that the staff are "already budgeted for the program" is evidence that power, at the UofI, comes from controlling resources as opposed to actually getting things done....Higher-Ed "value" dynamics are changing and this type of "leadership" will eventually collapse.