Campus Dining Town Hall brings Discussion, Change

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Campus Dining Town Hall brings Discussion, Change

Courtesy of Creative Commons

Courtesy of Creative Commons

Courtesy of Creative Commons

Courtesy of Creative Commons

Addison Scufsa

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The Minnesota Student Association, Friends with Food Restrictions, and the DSCC hosted an open town hall with University administrators on April 29. The goal of the town hall was to start a discussion on the campus dining halls and bring student voices into the upcoming Aramark contract renewal decision next year. With a crowd of around twenty students, the organizers considered the event to be a success.

Jenna Brott, a registered dietician for the University, and Amy Keran, manager of the Aramark contract with the University, were both present to answer student questions on anything dining related, including the upcoming contract renewal. Many of the students’ questions pertained to issues about the current dining halls, but a vocal minority demanded information on whether or not Aramark would continue to service University dining halls.

Aramark is the current provider of dining services here at the Twin Cities campus, but it wasn’t always that way. The University ran its own dining halls until 1998 when it officially switched to a partnership via contract with Aramark, a well known food contractor across the US. The contract included providing food and services for not just the dining halls, but also the stadium concessions, athletic dining, certain on-campus restaurants, and the C-Stores inside residence halls.

The decision was made in 2008 to continue the contract for another ten years with Aramark, which expires in 2020. Many students questioned why the switch was made in the first place back in the 1990’s. Amy Keran stated that the University originally contracted with Aramark to save money and to improve quality, citing the fact the University was, “losing money operating the dining halls themselves.”

Ironically, many of the student complaints brought up during the town hall were about quality issues, especially when it came to those with dietary restrictions. A few students were particularly dissatisfied with Aramark’s service to those with Celiac disease and other food allergies or restrictions. Concerns about cross-contamination, lack of employee awareness, and lack of decent options were all touched on, with one student in particular talking about how she couldn’t opt out of the dining plan due to her extreme restrictions despite claims from administration that she could, a point denied by both Amy and Jenna.

Other student complaints focused on dining hall hours and meal swipes, particularly the student Swipes Out Hunger campaign. Two students who lived in Bailey Hall this year were agitated over late night hours being available only at Centennial Hall, a long bus ride in the winter for those living in Bailey. Amy noted the complaint and said dining hall hours were a strong consideration for change, but warned students about the increase in prices due to labor costs that are associated with longer hours.

The leader of the Swipe Out Hunger campaign on campus questioned the University and Aramark for their decision to make swipes a weekly occurrence instead of a set number for the whole semester. She said this decision limits the campaign’s ability to help students throughout the week and restricts donations to guest passes only. Jenna and Amy both acknowledged the concerns, but said the decision to structure the pass system this way was set at a higher level of administration, much to the dismay of the students present.

As the event wrapped up, Christina Busche, organizer of the event and Campus Life committee director for MSA, thanked everyone for coming and urged the students to stay involved. Amy Keran and Jenna Brott both promised to listen to students whenever possible and make changes based on the feedback. As for future advocacy on the issue of campus dining, plans are in the works, and the issue is likely to stay in the spotlight as the Board of Regents’ decision to renew the contract approaches.