Discourse / Editorials / April 15, 2015

Thoughts from the embers: Keep Dining Services model

Knox’s model for dining services is facing the possibility of being overhauled by a food management company. While this change would save the college some money, it’s a decision that makes sense on paper only.

With Dining Services Director Helmut Mayer’s departure, Knox does not only lose a beloved part of our community but also the jack-of-all-trades that keeps our Dining Services department running. Mayer’s experience in not only the administrative requirements of running Dining Services, but also the culinary aspect of making the food has resulted in a unique dining experience for students.

American staples like pizza and burgers are available, but so is saffron-infused rice and Hungarian-style chicken. Vegan and vegetarian options are always available. If you ever want to see a certain item in the C-Store or want to make a comment about an item in the Caf, you’ll be talking to a man who’s a part of the community with a stake in students’ happiness and satisfaction with his products.

Having an in-house director reflects Knox’s commitment to the attention of the needs of its students. We have a specific person to go to, who knows us and knows our needs. If we wish to uphold the small community atmosphere of the college, retiring Dining Services Director Helmut Mayer should be replaced with another in-house director.

It does not fit with the spirit of the college to outsource the nutritional foundation of its student body to a for-profit corporation. One of the best qualities about Knox is the accessibility of its administrative figures. These figures have the difficult job of making every student’s time here as pleasant as possible. Dining Services, above all, has to be responsive to student needs. If you don’t believe that, take a look at the usually-full comment boards.

In an email from Vice President for Finance Tom Axtell, he advocated for a larger management company, and suggested that the school would move in that direction. Keeping the current model, he says, will present a fiscal burden on the college.

Though the current dining services employees will remain employees of the college, they’ll receive improved staff development and training that would match the training and development at other colleges and universities. We’ll have upgraded programs and facilities. And, like most changes Knox makes, this will appeal to prospective students. These arguments are sound, but they ignore a more sound counterargument: Knox is not like other colleges and universities.

Knox has unique projects that only a flexible dining services director can maintain. When Knox implemented the campaign to grow some of our own produce, Mayer found ways to utilize this produce by making sauce from the tomatoes and freezing the sauce to preserve it over the summer. A lot of our food isn’t just organic — it’s made in our own backyard.

The same can be said with regard to moving toward compostable plates and cups in the Gizmo. The coordination and efforts Dining Services and the Office of Sustainability have made together have improved Knox’s strides toward a more eco-friendly and healthy environment. This is not exactly the kind of move a corporate entity would make because of the higher costs of those products.

Knox has food-related events students can look forward to every term, or every year. Without a specific person in charge, there’s question about what would happen to I-Fair, Midnight Breakfast or Friendsgiving. A corporation will not stand at the end of the buffet line in November, carving a turkey and encouraging students to try the vegan tofu pumpkin pie. Knox is not a one-size-fits-all institution. We’re unique, and we have varied interests and tastes. We need a director who can cater to and respect those.

Knox students need a dining services director who cares about students the same way Mayer has demonstrated over the years. With a corporate food provider, Knox will become one school in a network of colleges overseen by the company.

TKS Editorial Board

Tags:  budget change dining services fiscal concerns food helmut mayer Students

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1 Comment

Apr 26, 2015

I enjoyed this article. Thank you!

I think this also presents the situation as: we simply do not know enough information about the food management service outsourcing option versus keeping the director position “in house.” Perhaps the college needs to involve some real conversation surrounding the options going forward, rather than just make an executive decision, as most institutions tend to do.

I also cannot tell if this editorial is pushing an undercurrent of being anti-corporation, and additionally, would be conducive toward group-think which would negatively impact the college in moving forward in this decision making process. I do not believe this to have been the intent, though.

I will admit that I am skeptical of Tom Axtell and his intentions of the email written to the Knox community. Firstly, when an email comes from the Vice-President of Finance, of course it is going to be written from the perspective of putting the burden onto the college financially, rather than actually being more concerned with the well-being of the college and its community of people. In my opinion, it was a terrible argument in which the reasons for switching to the option preferred by our Vice-President of Finance, pulled the emotion card.

Praises to Helmut! Thanks to the Editorial Board for allowing avenue for this discourse, similarly.

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