King’s students demand say in food service contract

Students' union wants better communication with university

Sodexo asked King’s to withhold some of the details of their contract, despite an Access to Information request filed by KSU. Photo: Peter Marrack

A University of King’s college student society met Friday afternoon to devise a response to the university administration’s renewal of a contract with its food service provider – a move it says was made without consulting students.

The university renewed the contract, which expires in 2013, in January 2012 for an additional five years.

Seven students, including King’s Students’ Union President Nick Stark and KSU Vice-President Omri Haiven say there was a lack of communication between King’s administration and the student body during the process.

“I was outraged when I heard,” says Haiven, referring to the early renewal. “We had built trust and they promised to consult and include us in the next consultation.”

Haiven says neither he nor the students found out about the contract renewal until June. He adds that the move violated a written agreement on consultation between KSU and former King’s president Anne Leavitt.  

The agreement, which was presented at the meeting, states that an advisory committee be set up where representatives of KSU, administration, Sodexo and the student body meet to discuss dining options on campus.

Haiven says none of these advisory committee meetings ever took place and there “was very little to no consultation between (former) bursar Gerry Smith and KSU.”

Backstory

KSU implemented a boycott of Sodexo in September 2011 that lasted a couple of weeks. It ultimately won them the right to break Sodexo’s monopoly as food provider on campus and launch the Galley canteen in the student lounge. The students had wanted to offer food on campus that, they say, was healthier and more locally sourced than that offered by Sodexo.

More recently, KSU filed an Access to Information request for contracts between King’s administration and Sodexo. They received these documents back from the university on Wednesday.

However, Haiven says few of the pertinent details such as the sources of the food and the value of the contract with Sodexo Canada were included, as they were withheld by the university on legal grounds; Sodexo was not comfortable releasing some of the more sensitive terms of the contract.

The Action! King’s society says it will petition Sodexo for this information – regardless of whether it is granted to them in the next 20 days under Access to Information protocol. Sodexo will have the option to appeal this additional request.

Administration’s reaction

Anne Leavitt, the former King’s president, says the written agreement between administration and KSU was that the administration would consult students and KSU about the services the food provider would offer – but ultimately the administration would make that decision itself.

“I had spoken to (former bursar) Gerry Smith about the contract with Sodexo,” says Leavitt. “I knew he was going to sign it.”

One of the vice presidents of KSU, Omri Haiven, says he received no warning of the Sodexo contract until almost six months after it was signed by former bursar, Gerry Smith. Photo: Peter Marrack

She continues in a text message, “… After looking into it, Gerry Smith was of the opinion that, in terms of quality and price, for a small school like King’s, [Sodexo and its alternatives] all offer pretty much the same.”

Smith declined to comment.

Leavitt adds that the advisory committee meetings with representatives from KSU, administration, Sodexo and students did happen, and that the dean of residence, Nicholas Hatt, attended them.

Leavitt says the decision to keep Sodexo on as a food service producer dates back to the change of food service providers in 1993 – when, according to Leavitt, many of the employees of the outgoing service lost their jobs.

From then on, she says, there was an agreement within administration and amongst faculty that King’s would promote long-standing relationships with such companies as Sodexo.

Hatt is cited by both KSU and Leavitt as the constant in communications between the two sides. Leavitt resigned from presidency in June. Smith took a leave of absence from the university in March.

Hatt says he attended three advisory committee meetings with KSU and administration.

“It was very difficult to get the whole committee together,” says Hatt. “The contract was never the topic of discussion… KSU mostly gave feedback to the president about the Galley.”

Hatt adds that KSU had the opportunity to voice their concerns about Sodexo during these meetings, but the topic didn’t come up.

Campus’s reaction

King’s Vice-President Kim Kierans, who was also around at the time of the contract signing, says she was shocked when she found out KSU and the students reported they hadn’t been consulted with.

“Students are important in decisions about the food service, because it affects them every day,” she says. “We’re a small community here at King’s and discussion is important.”

Ezra Manson, a first year student who attended the Action! meeting, says he felt the contract had been imposed on the students.

“When we’re left out of negotiations that directly affect us, we feel powerless,” he says.

Ashley Corbett, another first year student, says voting about these kind of issues is part of the King’s tradition.

“They should consult students, then we can put it to vote. We eat here. It directly affects us everyday. We vote for action.”

The students will try next to obtain the remainder of the contract documents with Sodexo. 

 

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