Behind closed doors, College renews contract with Sodexho

Without informing the entire campus community, the College renewed the contract of Sodexho Dining Services, its current dining services provider, for another two years.

In 2001, Sodexho began its work at the College after signing a contract for three years with two one-year extensions. This year, the contract came up for renegotiation and the College approached the company in late spring to begin discussions.

According to Toni Pusak, assistant director of auxiliary services and liaison between the College and Sodexho, Sodexho had to complete the negotiations as soon as possible.

This was necessary, according to Mark Mehler, assistant director of budget and finance for the College, because it would not be feasible to do the contract negotiations during the year, while his office is working on a housing study.

This is the reason Mehler provided as to why the contract was signed over the summer when students were not around, a fact that was not well-received by all students.

“Last year, I was Sodexho liaison for SGA (Student Government Association) and I conducted a campus-wide survey, which they used the results of to implement the new changes,” Jasmine Charl?n, SGA executive vice president, said.

“That’s why John Higgins (general manager for Sodexho) said that they had our input, which they did, but I think that students should have taken a bigger role in this.”

Charl?n said she is in the process of arranging a meeting with Pusak to discuss the contract and why students were not around for the actual renegotiations.

Last spring, Charl?n worked with SGA to approach Sodexho with information from forums and surveys that showed what changes the College students desired before its contract could be extended.

According to Higgins, the requested changes were then compared with feedback Sodexho had received.

“I think the College and Sodexho are in the same place of wanting satisfaction for the students,” Higgins said.

Higgins said Sodexho already knew there had to be some changes in Eickhoff Dining Hall concerning hours of operation and certain foods that were available in every other dining facility except the main one.

As a result, Meal Equivalency options were introduced for lunchtime, dining hours were changed and the dining menus were more clearly defined. The College has also requested that Sodexho work with research taken from other schools to see what would be best to offer the students.

According to Steve Hugg, district marketing specialist for Sodexho, contract extension is very common for an incumbent because the company is on campus at all times and sees how the facilities work and what the students are requesting firsthand.

Pusak said that throughout the past year, different classes gathered data about what students wanted from Sodexho and what changes needed to be made.

“We didn’t want to wait another semester to implement the changes,” Pusak said.

Still most students feel they were not properly consulted.

Heather O’Neill, sophomore elementary education and psychology major, said she does not recall being given opportunities to provide feedback about Sodexho, and that students should have been around during renegotiations.

“(Sodexho and the College) should have waited, because there are all these incoming freshmen who could have contributed to the study, while in the spring they possibly gathered information from people who could have graduated,” she said. “This (renegotiation) would have no effect on them.”

Some students, however, said they are fine with Sodexho and the College proceeding with the feedback they had previously collected.

“Students give their input for the nine months they are here at school so I would hope that the school would have a good idea about what students want and would push for these demands in the new contract,” Dave Nash, senior finance major, said. “I don’t see why it matters when they did it.”

Both the College and Sodexho said they are attempting to better the dining halls based on past student complaints, and will continue to do so.

“Student input on the dining program has a bigger effect month to month than when the contract comes,” Hugg said.

Students can provide Sodexho with ideas for changes in the system by attending monthly dining services meetings.