Food partnership needed to curb losses

For the last five years, University Food Services has operated at a loss because of increased competition and a shrinking customer base. It is expected to lose $1.1 million this year. To save the ailing service, the Board of Regents plans to partner with a corporation that would provide vending, catering, dining and retail services on campus. Last April, a UFS evaluation team recommended that the University negotiate a contract with ARAMARK, a world-leading business that manages food services at the University of Chicago, St. Cloud State University, Boston University and hundreds of other schools. If a partnership isn’t made with ARAMARK or another experienced food vendor, the University will continue to bear million dollar losses.
Naturally, the proposed 10- to 15-year contract with ARAMARK will have a tremendous impact on the University community. Although negotiations are ongoing and specific provisions of the contract have yet to be released, various interest groups are suspicious of an ARAMARK-University partnership. Students are concerned the private company will monopolize food services on campus, which could raise prices and provide lousy food and service. Employees fear their jobs, wages and benefits will be jeopardized. And local business operators in Stadium Village, Dinkytown and Cedar-Riverside worry about the prospective competition luring away University affiliated customers.
Fortunately, ARAMARK officials spent three weeks meeting with the interest groups to address their needs and concerns. They promised to improve and expand food service, which could spell lower prices, longer hours, more variety and higher quality. They also assured employees that their jobs won’t be threatened if a contract is finalized. In addition, many students will still eat at off-campus restaurants like Village Wok and Big Ten for the ambiance as well as the food. Judging from ARAMARK’s overall track record and testimony from its representatives, the University is likely to gain from a partnership with this corporation.
Skeptics believe this arrangement further exemplifies the administration’s effort to corporatize the institution. In light of the University’s 10-year, $28 million Coca-Cola contract and partnerships with Dinnaken Properties, AT&T, TCF and other businesses, this sentiment is justified. Like other educational institutions, the University has sought private deals to pay for many of its programs and services. However, budget constraints and rising costs make it necessary for the administration to pursue corporate partnerships. This helps the University control expenses and focus on more vital issues, such as the availability of scholarships, salaries for faculty members and the maintenance and expansion of academic programs.
By contracting with a competent food service provider such as ARAMARK, the University stands to benefit from a new, improved and profitable food service. With the current food service projected to lose a million dollars, the Board of Regents must select a food vendor and negotiate a reasonable contract as soon as possible.