Columns / Discourse / April 6, 2016

Can Knox call itself nonprofit?

On April 15, 2015, former Vice President for Finance and Administrative Services Tom Axtell informed the campus that Director of Dining Services Helmut Mayer would be retiring, and decided (without consulting the student body, Helmut, nor dining services employees) that instead of hiring a new director of dining services, the school would hire a food management corporation. By the May 25, Axtell had given the Knox Community two choices: Bon Appétit or Sodexo. As Sodexo has committed multiple human rights abuses in Western Africa, we chose the lesser of two evils and hired Bon Appétit. A similar fate fell on the Knox College Bookstore when in the summer of 2014 it was sold out to Neebo, and Human Resources when it was sold out to John Newton and Associates this past October. It would seem that the Knox Administration is intent on outsourcing everything it can.

Outsourcing, for those who might not know, is when an organization contracts a third party source to provide a good or service, instead of that organization providing that good or service itself. The thing about Knox, though (and many other colleges for that matter), is that it legally has 501c3 non-profit status; however, these corporations that the Knox Administration has been outsourcing to have all been for-profit entities.

Although Knox legally can call itself a non-profit institution, can it continue to call itself that ethically? If it were just the bookstore, one could argue that students are not forced to use the bookstore; students can buy books elsewhere. If it were just Human Resources, one could argue that students don’t regularly interact with HR and so it’s not really important. However, on the issue of Dining Services, it is not like the bookstore. Students, if they live on campus, which only a few are allowed not to, are forced to be on board. Dining Services is also not at all like HR. Students interact with Dining Services almost everyday. Even on the days that students don’t interact with dining services, they are still forced to pay into that system.

By outsourcing dining services, the Knox Administration has literally forced the vast majority of the student population into a for-profit monopoly. It’s not only that, but Bon Appétit is monopolizing Knox College’s Dining Service and we are forced to pay a lump sum into the system regardless of how many meal swipes and dining dollars we do not use. And now, instead of leftover meal swipes and dining dollars being used to benefit the Knox community, our money is going away from Knox and out of Galesburg.

When the Knox Administration talks about why they are outsourcing, they talk about it as if it is much cheaper for the college, which it might be; however, the purpose of any for-profit institution is to make money. When Knox ran its own dining services, all that had to be done was that financially we had to break even, but now because Knox outsourced dining services, a profit has to be made, and if that profit isn’t being made from the college, it is being made off of the students. In fact, prices have already been increasing in the Gizmo and C-store and at the same time Gizmo portion sizes have been decreasing, and many items are disappearing from the Caf and Grab-N-Go’s or are instead being replaced with inferior products.

Because Knox College now forces students into financially supporting a for-profit institution, Knox College cannot ethically call itself a non-profit institution. By outsourcing dining services and many other sectors of our school we are giving up the types of services that set us apart from other small liberal arts colleges. If we are to maintain our legacy as an institution that places high value on moral equity and fairness, is it now time that we cut against the grain of society once again and end the corporate takeover of Knox College.

Alex Davis

Tags:  activism Alex Davis bon appetit dining services Knox College nonprofit private sector Sodexo student activism student input

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1 Comment

Apr 08, 2016

This is almost entirely false, at least in regards to Bon Appetit and it’s relationship with Knox. Dining Services at Knox remains a Knox service, it is merely managed by Bon Appetit. Any profit that the Dining Services managed (which is unlikely but technically possible) would go to the school, not Bon Appetit. We pay them a lump sum to provide management, so if anything has been “outsourced” in dining services, it is just that one position. I say this as the Dining Services Chair of the Knox College Student Senate, I’ve been there working with Diane and Jason, and before they were here with Tom in the decision making process. I understand many people are not comfortable with Bon Appetit managing dining services at Knox, but I do not appreciate this type of misdirection.



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