After complaints over U food service, Student Senate taking steps to address issues

A Student Senate resolution, if passed, would ask the University to deliver a set of food quality and business ethics concerns to Aramark.

by David Clarey

University Student Senate leaders are pushing for changes to the University of Minnesota’s food provider.

A Student Senate resolution, if passed, would ask the University to deliver a set of food quality and business ethics concerns to Aramark, the school’s food provider. It also calls for an advisory board to oversee complaints with Aramark and University Dining Services and the addition of student representation to the committee that reviews the contract with the provider each year.

The resolution will be voted on in the Student Senate Consultative Committee on Jan. 26 and the Senate Consultative Committee in February. If approved by both committees, it would be on the agenda for the March 2 Student Senate and University Senate meetings.

If passed there, it would then go to the University’s administration.

“I’ve been in student government for three years, and I would say the number one concern brought to student leaders is food quality,” said Trish Palermo, chair of the Student Senate Consultative Committee.

Aramark spokeswoman Karen Cutler said they annually poll campuses about how to improve, and they consistently hear about expanding dietary options for religious and health reasons.

Cutler said Aramark has received a satisfaction score of 5.25 out of 7 from 3,200 students in its surveys.

But in a March 2016 Minnesota Student Association survey of Aramark, 57 percent of 2,089 student respondents said the food was “not of high enough quality” and 61 percent said the food was too expensive.

According to Aramark’s 12-year contract with the University, Aramark receives a $50,000 bonus annualy if it meets benchmarks in 15 different areas, such as safety, sanitation and customer satisfaction.

Max Hurst, political science sophomore and CLA student senator, said that if Aramark responds inadequately to the push, the Student Senate will push the University to withhold the performance incentive and pursue other food vendors.

“It’s not just them sending a letter back and saying, ‘Yeah, we understand we have poor food quality and service,’” he said.

The resolution, if passed, gives Aramark until Jan. 1, 2018 to respond to the concerns.

Hurst said he and Palermo are planning on presenting the resolution to the Association of Big Ten Students in February. He said they hope to motivate other universities that have contracts with Aramark to push for similar resolutions, and receive a cosign on their own resolution.

Aramark first provided food service to the University’s Twin Cities campus in 1998.

A year after the company began providing food, the University Senate passed a similar resolution. At that time, the resolution noted a perceived ‘increase in price and a decrease in quality, service and choice” in food service provided by Aramark.

Aramark has been under scrutiny in recent years for alleged issues with their prison food quality and other ethical concerns.

In 2014, Aramark was fined $200,000 by the state of Michigan for unapproved menu substitutions and staff misconduct in its state prison systems. In 2015, the state ended its contract with Aramark.

Cutler said the fines were legitimate, but that they only pertained to food substitutions, not the quality of the food.

In Ohio, a maggot infestation was found to be the “joint responsibility” of Aramark and the state’s corrections department..

Palermo, the Student Senate chair, questioned if the University’s values aligned with the alleged unethical business practices.

“As students we’re taught, you know, to fight for what we think is right … The reality is that the values of the University do not align with Aramark’s values,” she said.

Cutler said ethical concerns are a “smear campaign” against the company.