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San Jose State University Clams Up on No-Bid Cisco Contract

How much over budget is the campus's unfinished wireless network expansion -- already $2 million over -- expected to go?

by Katy Murphy, The Oakland Tribune (TNS) / November 17, 2014

Unanswered questions are mounting in San Jose State's handling of a $28 million, no-bid technology deal as campus leaders stonewall inquiries.

After publishing an investigative report on the Next Generation Technology Project, this newspaper sought additional information: How much over budget is the campus's unfinished wireless network expansion -- already $2 million over -- expected to go? How much of the classroom-technology equipment purchased up to two years ago still awaits installation? How does the administration plan to encourage and train faculty to use the costly new technology in their classes?

Four weeks later, the only response to those inquiries was indirect and incomplete -- a list of questions and answers published on the campus website last week. It skirts many of the questions while defending the administration's decision to pursue the no-bid wireless upgrade with Cisco Systems, a major donor and employer with close ties to the campus president.

The Q-and-A was the answer to this newspaper's questions, a campus spokeswoman said, but when pressed last week for direct answers, she said she understood that the administration was working on a response.

"It certainly gives the impression that there's something to hide or that they can ignore it and it will blow over," said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense.

SJSU President Mo Qayoumi also canceled a meeting with the newspaper's editorial board in October and has not sought to reschedule it.

This newspaper's Oct. 5 report revealed the questionable conception and execution of a project developed largely in secret with little faculty involvement.

To ensure that campuses -- and taxpayers -- are getting the best deal for their technology projects, CSU policy requires a campus to do a feasibility study explaining how it encouraged "full and open competition" or justifying why it didn't seek bids.

But San Jose State did not explain why it didn't ask Cisco's competitors to bid -- instead noting that "San Jose State executive management, along with Cisco leadership, spent a great amount of time discussing the synergies and benefits of a partnership."

The chancellor's office could not document the approval and says CSU executives no longer in office OK'd it.

San Jose State launched the Next Generation Technology Project in July 2012, about a week after submitting its feasibility study to the chancellor's office. In the first month, it ordered more than $16 million in equipment and services from Nexus, a Cisco reseller.

In September 2012, when campus leaders unveiled the project in a news release, they promised it would improve San Jose State's unreliable wireless network and phone systems and install by March of this year 51 high-tech classrooms, each with systems to record lectures and to interact virtually with people around the world.

More than two years later, campus leaders say the wireless capacity has tripled. Still, the project is behind schedule and over budget, only about five of the 51 high-tech classrooms have been built, and faculty have asked why the project included thousands of video phones at nearly $400 each, given other pressing needs on campus.

This newspaper's report raised another question about spending: Why did San Jose State opt out of a CSU-wide wireless network project that is improving Internet service more cheaply -- and at no cost to campuses -- throughout the system?

Although the CSU upgrade wasn't as extensive as the one Cisco promised, San Jose State could have participated in it and bought the more complex components of the Next Generation Project separately.

Campus leaders have given two seemingly contradictory reasons for their opting out. They first said that San Jose State's project started before they knew enough details about the CSU plan. Then, in last week's online Q and A, they said the CSU project wasn't extensive or timely enough to meet San Jose State's needs, suggesting a knowledge of details.

Administrators also did not explain how much the wireless upgrade is expected to cost when completed.

Originally budgeted at $9.5 million, it had cost $11.6 million as of Sept. 30, according to the campus, not including the loss of up to $800,000 in stolen wireless equipment. Last month, university police arrested 39-year-old IT employee Javier Farias on suspicion of stealing the equipment. (Campus inventory procedures were so weak that for months, the campus could not determine whether the missing parts were even delivered.)

Despite the irregularities outlined by this newspaper, the CSU chancellor's office says it is not investigating.

"The chancellor is aware of President Qayoumi's vision for the campus, and he is also aware of the issues that were voiced by faculty and staff in your story," said a statement from CSU spokesman Mike Uhlenkamp. " ... The chancellor continues to work with San Jose State leadership to assure best practices going forward that are consistent with policy."

Lou Monville, chairman of the CSU board of trustees, declined to comment about the project.

Ellis compared the San Jose State response to something he often sees agencies or companies do. Amid a controversy or critical coverage, he said, they "put up their straw man Q-and-A or myth/fact," which "are often pretty loaded and don't provide the information that the reader wants."

A state university must respond to the public, he said, whether it is a journalist or a concerned citizen.

"If they don't want to tell the public what they're doing and how they're spending the money," Ellis said, "then don't take the public's money."

©2014 The Oakland Tribune (Oakland, Calif.)

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