As the year comes to an end, the college administration has yet to make a decision on whether or not Bon Appetit’s contract will be renewed or if the college will seek other managerial staff.
Vice President for Finance and Administrative Services Keith Archer has taken the lead on meeting with groups on campus such as the Student Life Committee (SLC), Senate and student dining workers to take in grievances and assess student satisfaction. Additionally, in his meeting with SLC, Archer stated his wish to dispel “inaccurate statements” about the nature of Knox’s business relationship with Bon Appetit.
He first spoke about the change this year to have the dining services staff working in the Gizmo and C-Store during Flunk Day, instead of working solely in the caf. The student group Alliance for Peaceful Action (APA) learned of this shortly before Flunk Day and spread a petition to condemn it. The group has previously published articles on Buzzfeed with anonymous quotes attributed to caf workers that argue against working with a corporation for dining services.
Archer emphasized that the change had neither been facilitated by Bon Apptit nor had it benefited Bon Apptit’s profits. After receiving student requests for food after dinner on Flunk Day, Archer consulted Vice President of Student Development Anne Ehrlich and they decided to open up the additional services.
Bon Appetit’s profits are not impacted by day-to-day changes, but rather are incurred through a management services fee, so any profits made on Flunk Day did not give them a gain or loss.
Associate Dean of Students Craig Southern supported the decision. In years past students had approached him asking to have more options on Flunk Day. The Gizmo and C-Store saw over 200 transactions on Flunk Day.
In other areas, Archer admitted that mistakes had been made. While zero official grievances have been filed through the dining worker’s union, there have been difficulties in the change.
Students and managing staff Jason Crouch and Diane Welker have primarily communicated over comment cards set up in the caf, but hostilities have arisen over this form of communication.
Increasingly personal and hostile attacks have been made by students on comment cards, Archer said, and these along with other comments have at times been responded to with “snarky” remarks or not been responded to at all.
In response to this, Crouch wrote in an email, “I’m sorry to hear that anyone thinks a response to a comment card was antagonistic. All I can say is that it’s easy to read things into written responses that weren’t intended by the writer. I’d be happy to talk to anyone who doesn’t feel heard.” He also noted that while there may be delays in responding to comment cards, he does read the comments daily and tries to respond in a timely manner.
Primary grievances that have been cited by students are lack of labeling, cross-contamination and mislabeling of food, improper handling of food and poor food quality.
“I have too many friends who are being forced to go off-board because there is an absence of healthy and/or safe food for them to eat,” junior Clarice Bernett said. “There have been many, many requests by myself and many friends to fix these things, and nothing has changed.”
Other students say that food quality and options for vegetarians and vegans have improved. Multiple students cited the fruit bar as a positive change they have seen in recent months and the diversity that came with moving away from former Knox Director of Dining Services Helmut Mayer’s three week rotation of food choices.
When the APA Buzzfeed article was posted in early Winter Term alleging that food had been improperly handled, Archer and others from the administration spoke with the managing team and asked about conditions to verify whether or not the malpractice worries were true. In the instance of food being too close to the ground for regulation, it seemed to Archer to be a situation where the food had been placed there as it came in and before it moved to its proper location.
Student Senator and senior Jonathan Grant warned of “rose tinted glasses” in relation to Dining Services under Mayer. For example, some grievances, such as swipes being taken from students for Flunk Day, are not new, but exist as holdovers from Mayer’s time. Heightened levels of scrutiny not seen under Mayer’s leadership may also impact views of dining service practices.
With both Archer and the management staff being new to campus this year, they have relied heavily on Mayer’s precedent.
Grant also noted that less students have been attending forums held each term, which he attributed to students being either “‘happier or more complacent.”
A benefit of continuing a contract with Bon Appetit, Archer said, is that it could open Knox up to funds from Bon Appetit to update dining facilities, which at this time Knox does not have the money to do so for itself. Currently, the facilities are not in line with Bon Apptit’s standards for in-house production, which contributes to difficulties in the kitchen. Access to backups in case of power failure in the kitchen and nutritionists could also become available in a longer-term contract.
Archer noted that this was not a deciding factor, but one to consider.
“We love serving the Knox College community but I admit this has been a very challenging first year,” Crouch said. “It can take a while to build a relationship at a new campus, and we’ve been working hard to do that and hope we’ll get the chance to continue.”
As the time nears to make a decision, APA has been gathering signatures on petitioning against Bon Appetit and other management corporations throughout the week. They received 60 signatures on Tuesday.
The college says it will alert the campus as to its decision within the next few weeks.
UPDATE 6/3/16: Knox College resigned with Bon Appétit on a five-year contract.