The Utah Attorney General’s office is investigating Weber State University’s request for proposals (RFP) for a lecture capture system in a case that raises important questions about competitive-bidding practices in higher education.
Lynn Packer, who had hoped to submit a bid for a lecture capture system he helped design, filed with the state attorney general’s office after discovering what he believed to be a bid specification rigging scheme.
Packer believed that lecture capture giant Sonic Foundry was working with university employees to ensure that the RFP could be fulfilled only by Sonic Foundry’s Mediasite platform through the use of “kill points.”
Kill points are requirements in an RFP that very few products have, thereby destroying competitors’ chances to make a bid.
“I guess any company who is selling something would like to have some kind of an edge, because the more competitors you have, the less chance you have of getting the bid. And the lower price you have to bid, the less profit you make—so if there’s any way to reduce the number of competitors and improve your profit, [all] the better,” he said.
Packer said there were several items on the RFP that he termed “fishy.” For instance, he said, the RFP stated that the lecture capture hardware and the video management system should be purchased together, which eliminated a large number of competitors who don’t offer a video management system. He also took issue with the lack of prices listed.
“When the review committee first looked at it and narrowed the choices, they wouldn’t even know what the price of the system was, and that is just laughable,” said Packer. “That is heavily weighted and biased towards Mediasite and just a couple of other really expensive products.”
Sonic Foundry declined to comment for this story, noting that it hasn’t been formally implicated in any wrongdoing.
However, John Kowalewski, a Weber State University spokesman, said Packer went to the state attorney general’s office before Weber State had a chance to re-examine the RFP.