Samuel Boudreau

News Editor

Bijeta Lamichhane

News Editor


President Sarah Bolton’s email regarding outsourcing dining and custodial services was a surprise to many, including staff.

On Dec. 7, 2012, 30 students huddled around the “Lowry” student center’s pit to express their concerns to the College President Grant Cornwell and Dean of Students Kurt Holmes. One of those concerns was the College’s consideration to outsource its dining services. The College’s consideration to outsource consisted of a “full-assessment of the College’s institutionally-run Dining Service” including a nine-month analysis of the financial, staffing, management and “mission and cultur[al]” implications of outsourcing dining staff. In a Voice article, Dan Grantham ’13, former Viewpoints editor, wrote, “Assured by Cornwell and Holmes that their opinions would be heard before any decision were made, students at the chat primarily expressed concerns regarding the job security of Dining Services’ staff, their benefits and their pay if such a change were implemented.”

“It’s not the sort of thing you’d want to rush,” said Holmes at the discussion. 

After the College’s decision to consider outsourcing dining services, a petition on called for the College to “eliminate the option of outsourcing Campus Dining Services” and received 1,011 signatures. On Feb. 21, 2013, a Viewpoint written by a dining staff member titled “Dining Service Employees do not wish to be excluded from the College family” expressed the financial, career and future concerns of staff members due to the College’s outsourcing consideration. The College ultimately decided not to outsource their dining services in 2013. 

Nine years later, however, on Jan. 5 this year, President Sarah Bolton sent an email to the campus community, stating, “…11 of the 12 members of the Great Lakes Colleges Association – run their dining with an outside, contracted partner. We have decided that Wooster needs to do so as well, in order to support our students, our staff and our mission.” The College also decided to outsource the College’s custodial team. “After careful review, there is just one other area where we believe this is needed – custodial services,” Bolton wrote in her email.

Bolton and Jim Prince, Vice President and Treasurer and Vice President for Finance and Business, said that the College attempted multiple methods to increase staffing, such as raising wages to $14.00 dollars, providing bonuses and adding local food options for students. “While those helped in some ways,” Prince said, “it was not enough.” 

Along with guidance from the College’s 2018-2019 “Connect, Create and Discover” strategic plan, staffing struggles led to Bolton and her team’s decision to outsource dining and custodial services.“ We started thinking more seriously about the dining and custodial situations over the course of the later part of this fall,” Bolton told the Voice, “because we had said we would think about everything, but also because we knew that our teams were really, really struggling. We really felt like we were asking the impossible of people to do what they were doing.”

Director of Campus Dining and Conference services Marjorie Shamp said staffing was the main reason that campus dining and conference services struggled last fall. “Our biggest challenge was the inability to recruit and hire new staff,” said Shamp. Wayne County’s unemployment rate of 2.6 percent and a sharp increase in local restaurant competition pose the primary challenges for the inability to hire and retain staff. “These issues, combined with local industry offering higher wages and large sign-on bonuses, creates a very competitive market,” said Shamp. 

Mike Taylor, associate vice president of facilities, design and construction/facilities Management & Planning, said that the College’s custodial services struggled to operate with new health and safety protocols. “Facilities found it difficult to maintain appropriate staffing levels needed to address the evergreen and additional hygiene and cleaning needs of campus brought on by the pandemic,” said Taylor. “Gaining access to supplies that are in high demand and staying on top of the latest techniques and protocols in cleaning and sanitization is something a partner who is dedicated to custodial functions can also help us with.”

The decision to outsource dining and custodial services was decided by Bolton and her “senior team,” in collaboration with Shamp and Taylor. Bolton and the administration also notified the College’s Board of Trustees of their decision to outsource these services. “This is not a board-level decision,” Bolton said. “It is an administrative decision.” 

When asked why staff, students and faculty were excluded from discussions on whether to hire an outside firm, as was the case in 2012, Bolton said that dining and custodial problems intensified in recent years, forcing her to make an “urgent decision.”

“The demands on custodial and dining have been just much more intense through the pandemic,” Bolton said, “but even before it.” Bolton continued, “I think it would just be disingenuous, really, and unfair to sort of pretend to include people in a decision where it already seemed urgent to move forward in this way…” 

Prince supported Bolton’s decision to move forward without initial community conversations with students, faculty and staff, as done in 2012-2013. “It is difficult to go to the group that’s being impacted and ask them what their opinion is, even though I really understand the question,” said Prince. “There comes a point in leadership where you have to say, ‘this is what we believe is the best direction for the College, and that is what we have to do.”

While Bolton emphasized that the College made the decision to outsource based on two priorities—supporting the needs of students and supporting the dining and custodial staff— members of the campus community have criticized Bolton and her team for not including key members in the decision-making process. An anonymous source familiar with the situation condemned the decision makers for not including members of the campus community in the decision-making process. “Why was the community not consulted before the decision was made?” the source questioned, citing that no one outside Bolton’s team was involved in the process, not even members of dining services. When the Voice asked Bolton about the people involved, she said, “The ultimate decision was mine, so I’m accountable for this decision and responsible for it.” Bolton then clarified that different members of the administration were a part of providing input. “We talked to other members of my senior team, some of whom had worked on campuses that have different arrangements for dining and custodial services,” she explained. Some of the advisors included the Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Myrna Hernández, Prince, and Provost Lisa Perfetti.

When asked if this was a financially-motivated decision, as was the case in 2012, Prince said no. “When you do something like this, you would hope that there would be opportunities to save some money,” Prince said, “but we did not enter into this with the idea that we were going to save money. In fact, it could cost us some more, and we’re hoping not.” The College is entering into a “manage-fee” contract with the outside firms. “We are going to work with [the firms] to have a managed fee where we pay the expenses,” Prince said. “We also get the revenue that we charge, and then we pay them a separate fee to oversee this operation and what that does is it gives us the opportunity for an open book, so we actually sit down with them every month or quarterly monthly and we will evaluate both the performance in terms of how they’re supporting students and our campus, and will also be looking very closely at the cost, structure and so forth.”

Despite Bolton’s and Prince’s reassurances, however, concerns remain apparent among staff members. One member of dining services criticized the execution of the process and expressed concerns regarding how the staff’s benefits might change for the worse once they become employees of an entirely new company. “The execution was bad from the start,” the staff member said. “They generally just told us, ‘unfortunately, we are outsourcing your guys’ jobs and here’s what we’re going to do.’” The staff member then described some of the benefits they could potentially lose, stating, “They are going to pay out our vacation time. We are going to lose all of our sick time.”

When asked about the staff’s concerns regarding these benefits, Prince said that the College was indeed paying out the vacation time. Prince clarified, “We might be able to pay out some of the sick time. We haven’t reached that conclusion yet. It may be that the new company may honor some of their sick time and absorb that part into their operation.”

The staff member further reported that the College provided some incentive for people to stay: they would receive two checks of $600 in March and May, and the tuition benefit program—which allows employees and their dependents to receive a tuition-free education at the College—would remain intact. Despite these reassurances, however, the staff remains concerned about how this transition might affect their overall benefits, including the 401K program.

Regarding the staff member’s thoughts on outsourcing in particular, they said, “As much as I would like to be a part of an independent dining service, [outsourcing] is better for the the students and the College, because the new company is going to have more access to individuals who have dietary restrictions and their companies, and they have more resources to be able to bring in people, and there is going to be better training options and more.” They added, “If the new company offers the kind of incentives that the College has, I would support [the decision]. However, the execution was just terrible.”

Students will have the opportunity to meet and ask questions with finalists for dining on March 10 and 11. So far, the College has interviewed Aramark, AVI, Bon Appetit Management Company, Creative Dining Services, Metz Culinary Management and Parkhurst Dining. 

Written by

Chloe Burdette

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