Columns / Discourse / May 18, 2016

Outsourcing not positive student experience

On Monday, May 2, Sam Klingher and I met to discuss outsourcing, Knox College Dining Services and Bon Appétit with Chief Financial Officer Keith Archer. We were hoping that we could find out concrete information about the decision to outsource Dining Services management, namely the reasons that decision was made. We asked Archer if the reasons for doing so were financial. He speculated that they weren’t financial and that they were rather “to improve the student experience.” As Keith Archer only started working for Knox within the past school year, and as Tom Axtell had made the decision to outsource right before he retired, Archer does not know the exact intentions to outsource.

The gap in first-hand knowledge aside, let us assume that the reasons to outsource were as Keith Archer described and are in fact aimed at improving the student experience. Now we can ask ourselves, “What has the change to a for-profit management company brought to Knox?” Although there are a small minority of students who are perfectly fine with Bon Appétit and the changes that they have made, the rest of the student body ranges from apathetic to completely against outsourcing and Bon Appétit. We as a campus have seen our labeling system disappear, and along with it all consistency with the food. This has terribly affected students with dietary needs and restrictions, whether they be medical, moral or religious. We have seen our friends in Knox College Dining Services be disrespected, and treated poorly. We have seen the quality of the food go down (or up, depending on which way your body gets rid of it). We have seen the strain that it has put on the Knox Community. Do these effects seem like an improvement in Knox’s student experience to you?

If we have not yet seen a large improvement in the student experience, then why does the administration see it that way? Last week, I was on the phone with Helmut Mayer, our former Director of Dining Services. I was discussing the conversation that Sam and I had with Keith Archer. Helmut has been through situations of outsourcing before coming to Knox, and has knowledge about how outsourcing usually works out. I told Helmut what Archer said about outsourcing the management being aimed at the student experience instead of the deficit. Helmut explained that this was most likely not the case. He said that the administration will try to make a contract with Bon Appétit for multiple years (maybe 10-15), in exchange for a loan for in order to renovate the Caf and Oak Room. The catch is that if the school signs this contract, the price of being on board will increase dramatically.

The reason why many Knox Students attend Knox is because of the scholarships and financial aid that we receive. The amount of money that we use to help students attend our college can be seen as a carry-over from our days as a work college when students could afford to go to Knox. We pride ourselves on this history; however, outsourcing to Bon Appétit goes completely against this ideal. By extending the contract we will be forcing students who struggle turn after turn to afford to come to Knox to pay even more money to come here. The administration will be putting up barriers to working- and middle-class families. The barriers that they are putting are barriers to obtaining a valuable education.

Outsourcing will not raise up the student experience, it will worsen it.

Alex Davis

Tags:  Alex Davis bon appetit Knox College outsourcing student experience

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