Alan “Al” Conrad has been warmly welcoming students
and guests to the College since 2001.
Alan Conrad shuffled five pages of notes as he prepared to convey his thoughts. Mr. Conrad, best known as “Al” to the campus community, is a 21-year servant of the College. He’s witnessed the coming and going of three different presidents and their respective administrations. His story begins on September 25, 2001 when he started working at the Wooster Inn (now a pile of rubble) after working in the savings and loans business and seven years of military service in the United States Army. But Mr. Conrad’s connection to the campus community and the city of Wooster run much deeper than his 21 years of service; his father, son and former spouse all attended and graduated from the College in 1928, 1994 and 1992 respectively. “I’ve got pretty much one through five,” he said as he counted the pages of notes. “I want to start out by saying that I’m not going to sugarcoat anything,” he continued. “I’m going to tell it as I see it.” With that being said, true to the spirit of a 21-year man, Mr. Conrad maintained that the tumultuous story of President Bolton’s and the administration’s sudden decision to outsource Dining and Custodial Services is not about him; he is “mildly protesting” the administration’s lack of transparency and their complete disregard for staff members along with their exclusion from any conversation surrounding their livelihoods.
After meticulously laying out the full story of the 2012 student protests and the subsequent overturning of the College’s decision to outsource Dining and Custodial Services 10 years ago, Mr. Conrad explained how it happened this time around, in 2022. “So, on Tuesday, Jan. 4, we were notified to be at a meeting the very next day. President Bolton led off the meeting… by saying how proud we the administration are of your hard work and dedication.” Mr. Conrad continued to say, “the very next few moments, she dropped the bomb: that dining services is to be outsourced. The staff members felt caught off guard and blindsided, and it’s ironic that three days later Bolton announced she is leaving,” Mr. Conrad finished. He then reflected on how the student body rallied around the staff members in 2012. “As I recall, [the students] were three and four deep all the way down to where the meeting rooms were back by the C-store. The trustees would have to come in through the front door and have to go through all of [the students] for their meeting.” Subsequently, “the strong student influence led to cancellation of [the] outsourcing,” Conrad stated before lamenting on the lack of student engagement he now sees across all aspects of campus life. “We feel like we’re walking on thin ice.”
What do you think most of the staff’s concerns are primarily about? What are people afraid of losing?
Benefits. Another would be, I think, hours that are scheduled. They tell us that the hours we have right now will stay in place, but I think underlying questions still remain: will that change? So, hours, benefits and I being part-time, and I’ve been told this by HR, that what I have in place as my semi-retirement will stay in place.
Do you think there is a culture of fear of staff losing their job over speaking out? If there is, does it come from anyone saying explicitly do not speak to the Wooster Voice?
That has not happened. I’m doing this of my own free will. Whether or not I suffer any repercussions, I’ll deal with that later. As I said, I want to stay here to continue my 21 years of service. I feel left in the dark, blindsided. I don’t know how else to put it.
What does your heart or your emotions say about the way that the campus community has changed in your 21 years?
I don’t know that I can put it in words. I guess, with the previous presidents of the campus, they were a lot more transparent about things that were going on. And I feel too, because it would be nice to at least be told of what might happen, instead of hitting us all the sudden — it’s just — I’m having problems putting it into words. Stan Hales, if you know that name, absolutely approachable. Whenever the trustees would come in for their dinners as we sit here: ‘Hi Al, how you doing today?’ Then, the president we had after that, Grant Cornwell — complete one-eighty difference between Hales and Cornwell. He was here for eight years. Then there was a one year interim president. After her one year of service, that’s when [President Bolton] came on board.
Across those three administrations how do you think their decision-making or transparency has changed?
It’s gone, in my mind, from good to okay to ‘what are you doing to us?’ It might be quite blunt, but that’s it. A lot of these concerns came up in that very first meeting over at Scheide when [President Bolton] announced we were being outsourced. Questions had come up, ‘didn’t you think of us before you made the decision?’ And you probably know that we’re having a hard enough time getting people to work here because of COVID or whatever the case might be. The question came up, what makes this company think they can do any better in bringing people on board? I think the answer was pretty much skirted around.
Do you think that the Wooster Inn is a similar case to the decision to outsource Dining and Custodial Services; a lack of transparency, a lack of discussion with the College community?
Absolutely. Having started there, my start date was two weeks after 9/11. [I] worked the front desk, meet and greet, seat people for their meals, take reservations for the rooms. [I am] very saddened about the way it turned out. Some of the other people who are in [The Daily Record] were interviewed and they felt the same way; that they should have been consulted. The decision had been made FLAT OUT. There had been enough money put forth to renovate Lowry, and what I read in the paper, it was estimated that four or five million [was needed] to renovate the Inn. My thought there is, okay, they came up with money for Lowry — an extra four or five million dollars could’ve been found somewhere to save the Inn. I was at the Inn for three years before transferring over here.
We are the only NCAC school that does not outsource our dining. If you had to say something directly to the student body what would you say concerning the outsourcing, their engagement and how would you like them to think about where they get their food?
Become active in your involvement with the school. If once this all kicks off, if you’re not happy with it, go to the administration. Let your thoughts be vocalized, don’t hold back. Maybe it’s just me, I’m more advanced in age — I am proud of my age and proud of my 21 years of service here and I want to keep going. Many questions about the future of Lowry dining remain. It all comes down to this: it is what it is ‘til it isn’t. We have to play the cards we’ve been dealt.
What do you want people to understand about your connection to Wooster?
My dad, my son and my [former spouse], she worked at the library on campus for the longest time and she got her education here. I served in the military, active-duty, from 1964 to 1967 and reserves from 1967 to 1970. I was getting my education in the Army itself. I handled pay records. My first career was in the savings and loans business. Then, First Federal transferred me to Wootser in 1978, so I’ve been here quite a long time. I knew, of course with my dad graduating in 1928, I knew very well about the College. When I was in need of a job, I tried to sell cars for a while and I hated making cold calls, so I had been looking for work and I knew the director of dining services back then. I called him on a Monday, turned in to a three-way conference call — I started that Friday. Because of my being here since 1978 and family connection I feel quite strong about the campus.
What is your primary concern with a new large corporation coming in?
I hope it works. That simple. There’s a lot of complexity to that, and I really do. My question then is, what happens if Creative Dining doesn’t work? I know of one college that went to outsourcing, didn’t work and that brought it back in-house. I’m aware that it didn’t work, but I just hope it works. I hope that we don’t get blindsided again saying ‘okay didn’t work, you’re done.’
Are there any final remarks you’d like to make to students?
Well as I said, if the students are not happy with the performance or the presentation of food, state your concerns. Again, let’s give it a chance. I don’t know how long this initial outsourcing thing will last, I’m guessing their might be a contract for x number of years, and I’m thinking the administration would be looking over the shoulders of Creative Dining to make sure it is working. Can’t say that for sure.
Do you have any final remarks or general thoughts for the administration?
As far as the administration, let staff become more involved. We’re not necessarily making any decisions, but input. And LISTEN to us!
Would you like to say anything to fellow staff members?
I know there are a lot of staff members that were initially upset, big time. Now that the decision is made, we may not be in favor of the decision, and I’m pretty sure that some still aren’t, give it a chance. That pretty much sums it up.
What are your final thoughts?
I want to continue my 21 years of service to the College, although the ultimate decision is not up to me.