Administration says vendor code is progressing

By Kevin McLoughlin

Recent activism during the Student Labor Week of Action drew attention once more to the Vendor Code of Conduct (VCC).

Students, faculty and community members said they believe that University President B. Joseph White has taken too long to implement the code, which he received on March 12 last year.

If enacted, the VCC would hold vendors to standards of nondiscrimination, affirmative action, freedom of association and collective bargaining, wages and benefits and environmental protections, among others.

While labor activists have criticized what they called inaction on the part of President White, representatives of the president’s office said the code is moving along in a timely fashion.

“I don’t think he’s remained inactive,” said Tom Hardy, University spokesman. “I’m baffled by this characterization.”

Hardy said the administration is currently considering the most optimal way to implement the VCC. The next step will be submitting it to the University of Illinois Senates Conference for review. While the Senates Conference will provide important input, Hardy said he is unaware of any potential changes in the proposed code.

Tracy McCabe, assistant dean for external and alumni affairs for the College of Business, said the chair of the committee who proposed the VCC, Dean of Business Larry DeBrock, could not comment on the code’s current status or reasons why it might be delayed. McCabe said DeBrock is no longer involved in the administrative processes. The code is in the hands it needs to be in for approval, he said.

“I think it’s not unusual to see what I would refer to in university environments as very deliberative processes on any number of topics,” Hardy said. “I don’t see this time period (one year) as being highly unusual.”

Elliot Kaufman, professor in the College of Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago and current chairman of the University of Illinois Senates Conference, said it is likely that the VCC will be discussed soon.

“I think there are problems with codes like this, which is why more universities haven’t adopted them,” Kaufman said.

Kaufman said certain elements of the code might not be feasible to implement. He said some of his “legally inclined” colleagues have suggested that the VCC may violate state procurement acts.

“(Codes such as the VCC) raise obstacles and barriers that are not supported by law,” Kaufman said.

“If you put up requirements for vendors to meet, you might actually be accused of discriminating against them, especially when you are a public institution.”

According to the VCC, a vendor’s failure to adhere to the standards established by the code “may adversely impact a vendor’s ability to enter into or continue a business relationship with the University.”

Kaufman said that the VCC reads as a suggested code of conduct.

“There’s no discussion in it of implementation or enforcement,” he said.

He believes it is more of an educational tool the University could use to educate its vendors in regards to the University’s policies and expected conduct.

“It’s hard to say (if it would work),” he said.

“What we’d hope is that it would be effective in motivating vendors to meet these standards voluntarily.”