King’s renews Sodexo contract without faculty, student involvement

King has signed a four-year extension to its contract with Sodexo, which was set to expire in June 2013. Instead, Sodexo will continue to operate out of Prince Hall until September 2017.

Photo: Bryn Karcha

Critics of the Tater Tot casserole will have to make do. Sodexo is here to stay, at least for another five years.
The University of King’s College has signed a four-year extension to its contract with Sodexo – the 1993 Food & Conference Services Agreement, which was set to expire in June 2013. Instead, Sodexo will continue to operate out of Prince Hall until September 2017.
“My understanding is that the bursar signed (it),” says Kim Kierans, vice president of King’s.
Gerry Smith, the school’s former bursar, signed the extension, said Kierans, either in consultation with or with the knowledge of former president Anne Leavitt.
Leavitt said this was the case in a phone interview on Oct. 19.
“It was something I knew about but it is the responsibility of the bursar to contract services for the university,” said Leavitt.
The Watch has received, after filing through Freedom of Information legislation, copies of the amendment and the original agreement. The request continues to be processed, but the information released so far shows Gerald Smith signed the amendment on Jan. 9, 2012, as well as the original agreement with Sodexo in 1995.
Even though Smith signed the amendment at the beginning of the year, faculty, staff and students were not told about the renewal for four months.

Late information to faculty

King’s faculty only learned of its signing when Nick Hatt, dean of residence, raised the issue at a faculty meeting on May 14.
“Nicholas Hatt asked about the status of negotiations regarding the contract for food services,” reads the faculty meeting minutes. “The President said the negotiations were private and they were ongoing.”
Neil Robertson, former chair of faculty, says he thought that was true after having attended the meeting in May.
“The impression left was that it (the contract) was still under negotiation,” said Robertson.
But the contract was a done deal by the faculty meeting on May 14.
The next day, on the afternoon of May 15, faculty received an email from Leavitt.
“Yesterday at the Faculty meeting, we had a discussion of our food services contract with Sodexo,” read part of Leavitt’s email. “I’m sending this e-mail to let you know that that food services contract has been signed. The contract will run until September, 2017.”
Leavitt did not say in the email when the administration had signed the contract.
“Whether that was a correction to what was said during the faculty meeting or it had been signed between the faculty meeting and the email…I don’t know the answer to that,” said Robertson.

“The President said the negotiations were private and they were ongoing.”

– May 14 faculty meeting minutes, on the Sodexo contract

“Certainly there is an issue there about faculty involvement.”
Another professor says he has similar concerns. Fred Vallance-Jones, a journalism professor, attended the meeting and received the email that followed.
“The whole process took place without I and many other faculty members being aware that it had been taking place,” says Vallance-Jones, adding that he is giving his own opinions and not those of the university or the committees he sits on.
“I think faculty in general, without speaking to this specific case, should be informed that a contract is up for negotiation and appropriate faculty committees should be involved in that process.”
Faculty was “not at all” involved, said Kierans.
The bursar, she said, had the responsibility to negotiate the contract.

Students edged out

She says students should have a say in the discussions about the food service at King’s and how it can improve.
“I was surprised that it had been extended for four years without any consultation with students,” said Kierans.
Omri Haiven, vice president external of the King’s Students’ Union, says he was “outraged” that the administration signed the contract without student involvement, particularly in light of the KSU’s boycott of Sodexo in summer 2011.
The KSU began the boycott in response to Sodexo’s treatment of one of its long-time canteen employees, Zona Roberts, who no longer works at King’s.
“So it was about workers’ rights at the canteen,” said Haiven, “but it was also about ethical food, sustainable food, local food and a student-run option.”
Several weeks into the boycott, the KSU sat down with the administration and Sodexo. Gabe Hoogers, the KSU president at the time, says that they met several times, and reached the agreement on Sept. 9, 2011.
In the agreement, Haiven said, the administration agreed to two terms.
“The first… was to have a student, faculty and staff consultation process, and a process where we would actually choose the terms of a new food service contract.”
The second term required the administration to offer the KSU the former canteen in the Wardroom before putting it on the market, said Haiven.
The administration held to that term and the KSU opened its own canteen, the Galley, on Feb. 14. The KSU was not so successful with the first term.
“The administration did not follow-up with the consultation process of students, faculty and staff on the agreement,” said Haiven.

“There has to be a clear advantage if you’re going to sole-source a contract.”

– Fred Vallance-Jones, King’s journalism professor

No other options

Other food services also were left out of the consultation process.
The administration did not tender the contract, said Kierans. That means the university did not offer the contract to any other companies that offer services similar to Sodexo’s.
Putting contracts to tender is a valuable practice, says Vallance-Jones, and did not happen in this case.
“It was sole-sourced,” said Vallance-Jones.
Tendering could result in innovation in service delivery, he said.
“There has to be a clear advantage if you’re going to sole-source a contract.”
Vallance-Jones said so at the May 14 faculty meeting.
“Fred Vallance-Jones asked why the University doesn’t open up that contract to tendering, as a normal procedure,” read the minutes. “He said the best deals are gained frequently through open competition.”
The minutes also include then-president Leavitt’s response: “The President said she has been told that historical University practice has been to stick with long-standing service providers.”

Discussions to start

Faculty has taken steps to involve its members and different representatives of the King’s community in future discussions about the food service at the college.
Kierans and Hatt formed the Standing Committee on Residence Life in the spring, with Leavitt’s approval.
“This was something that our late librarian Drake Petersen recommended years ago,” said Kierans.
Petersen put forth the idea for the committee in a report dated February 2005.
The committee includes the dean of residence (Hatt), a don, a faculty member, the chaplain, the vice president (Kierans), the chair of bays, the president of Alex Hall, and a representative of the Day Students’ Society and of Sodexo.

Related stories
KSU launches boycott against Sodexo
Sodexo boycott recap
KSU votes to fund the Galley

“(We will) be able to sit down and say, ‘OK, how are we doing right now? What are our complaints about food services? What do students want? Do the meal plans work for us? What kinds of meal plans do we need?” said Kierans.
The committee hopes to meet at least once before the December break, she said.
Information Receipt Letter

May 14 Faculty Meeting Minutes Excerpt

Leavitt’s May 15 Email to Faculty

2012 Amendment to the Sodexo Contract

Original 1995 Contract

By David J. Shuman

David is the current editor-in-chief of The Watch and writes on student issues and events. Find him on Twitter: @DavidJShuman

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