BROOM: An empty plate

The Cavalier Daily should have devoted more stories to the new contract for dining services

Another chapter in the ongoing story of the University’s process for completing a new contract for dining services played out this past week. The reporting from The Cavalier Daily has been fairly thin as this process has taken place. And we’ve now learned that efforts by the Living Wage Campaign at the University to prevent Sodexo from obtaining the contract were misplaced, as Sodexo never submitted a bid. A couple of weeks ago there was a news story about the Living Wage Campaign efforts and a guest op-ed about their concerns with Sodexo’s business practices as it related to low-wage employees.

Back in February there was a short news article noting that the University’s contract with Aramark ends in July of this year. In it, University Spokesman McGregor McCance was quoted as saying details of the negotiations were confidential. And that seemed to be it. A couple of weeks later, Dani Bernstein wrote an op-ed in which she urged the University to move on from Aramark over concerns about how Aramark treats its employees. In it she wrote, “The University has received several solicitations from other food providers, and if any of these companies has a better track record on workers’ rights, the University should strongly consider hiring one of these food providers instead.” If she had information about who those companies were, that would have been worth following up on. The next day the paper ran another opinion column by Gray Whisnant calling for substantial changes to a possible renewed contract with Aramark including better pay for workers and support for sustainable agriculture.

I noted in my March 2nd column that I would have liked to see more research into alternative companies in Bernstein’s column. This same idea applies to all of the news reporting and the opinion columns on this topic. The new dining contract seems to me to be a vitally important topic at the University affecting students, staff and faculty on a daily basis — arguably more than just about anything else at the University. Opinion pieces need better research to offer legitimate alternatives. And the news reporting on this topic has simply been lacking. I understand the University spokesman said details were confidential. Why are they confidential? The University is a public institution. What information is an institution required to provide when asked?

University Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Patrick Hogan told a group from the Living Wage campaign that Sodexo had never submitted a bid. Perhaps this skirts some confidentiality rule as there isn’t a contract in play, but it seems as though more information may well have been available. If nothing else, information about what the University’s priorities for the new contract are would be worth knowing. Hogan also told the group the University is negotiating with two companies but that the names of those companies wouldn’t be revealed until a contract is finalized. That sounds ripe for investigative reporting, though time is quite short now as the process is nearing its conclusion, according to the article.

There are some stories and some events at the University that are worth spending a lot of time on, and this is one of them. The first renewal of the dining contract in quite some time — and the possibility that it would be a new company for the first time since, I believe, 1988 — is a big deal. Given the focus of many students and others on workplace practices and treatment of employees along with concerns about classification of employees in the wake of the Affordable Care Act, there is clearly significant interest in the dining services contractor. Regardless of whether the administration would divulge specifics about contract negotiations, there was a lot more to this story that I think readers of The Cavalier Daily would have been interested in and would have wanted to read.

Christopher Broom is the Public Editor for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at or on Twitter at @CDpubliceditor.

Published April 7, 2014 in Opinion

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