Speaking Out

Save Dining Services

In these days of government cutbacks in funding for higher education, colleges and universities across America are turning to restructuring as a means of reducing costs without compromising the quality of services that they provide to their students. One option that the University of Pennsylvania is currently considering is outsourcing, hiring outside contractors to take over services to the University which are currently under direct University control. The multitude of alternative options that exist by which this goal can be achieved, which have not been explored, makes the choice of this particular remedy highly suspect, and the services which are being considered for such an option even more so.

Take dining, for instance. Students have to eat. As a matter of convenience to the students most universities have eating facilities on their campuses, and there exist other dining options nearby, such as food trucks and local eateries, for those students who want either a change from the usual or don't use the campus dining halls. The total operating costs, including labor, usually comes out of the fee that students pay for what is listed as "board" on their tuition bills. This translates into an absence of extra cost to the University to run this service.

However, at Penn, Dining Services, as an operation currently being run by Penn, is seriously being considered for the guillotine. One hun dred and twenty-five full-time employees, forty managers, one hundred part-time and three hundred student employees all face the very real possi bility of joining the unemployment lines and taxing an already overburdened welfare system within the next twelve months. Given what has re cently transpired with former employees of The Bookstore, this is a very serious threat, indeed. Of course, there is the possibility that this will not occur, but in order to avoid that eventuality, steps must be taken to ensure that Dining Services, as it now exists, is never outsourced. The consid erations which are driving the need for outsourcing Dining Services must be weighed against its drawbacks. These include increased cost to stu dents, decline in the efficiency and quality of services and food, and unresponsiveness to student concerns.

In the long run, outsourcing Dining Services may cost the University more than it would to maintain the current state of affairs. Ultimately, it will fall on Exec. V.P. Fry to investigate all of these issues before making a final decision regarding the fate of Dining Services, and it is of the utmost importance that he does not casually dismiss these concerns as being secondary to what will turn out to be a short term solution for reduc ing overall University costs.

However, what has disturbed me most about this entire scenario as it has been played out is the total disregard for the student population that Fry has shown in the whole outsourcing process, considering that it is students (or their parents) who pay for this vital service. If the principle of in loco parentis was ever thought to be dead, think again. Ever since the Rodin administration assumed control in 1994, there has been a revival of the belief that the University should act in lieu of the parent under a new guise. Instead of claiming to act in the students' best interests, they have simply ignored student input on substantial issues, and have even gone so far as to suggest that students, who pay for the services that they receive, should have no real voice in the decision making process, especially when it involves those issues which will affect them most. Since stu dents at Penn pay for Dining Services, they should be integrally involved in any decisions which will decide who will provide them with meals. This option for students, however, is pre-empted by the pursuit of negotiations with outside contractors when the majority of students are away and thus unable to effectively raise their voices in protest.

I believe that outsourcing Penn Dining Services would be a disaster. It would reduce jobs; it would reduce the quality of service being pro vided to the students; and most importantly, it would increase students' living costs through additional spending on local restaurants and fast food chains, while keeping them bound to the new system. The only viable solution, in this case, is to keep Dining Services under the University of Pennsylvania's management, and to encourage continual changes for the better in their overall quality of food and customer service.

William James Walton, C '96

Response to Mr. Walton

In response to Mr. Walton's assertions, it is important to understand several facts regarding outsourcing.

The purpose of doing the "market test" is to evaluate opportunities to improve quality and service while reducing costs. The outcome of these types of analyses is not necessarily a decision to outsource. It may well be that the best interests of the University and its students are served by self -operating or some hybrid arrangement that better optimizes Penn's resources. We would certainly not enter into any arrangement, outsourced or otherwise, where the University and students would be disadvantaged financially. As with the Barnes & Noble transition, care will be taken to set standards for service quality levels in any outsourcing arrangement that might be considered.

Outsourcing does not necessarily put people out of work; it puts them to work in a new management environment where greater expertise is present. In the case of the bookstore outsourcing, 62 percent of Penn bookstore employees were offered positions at Barnes & Noble with competitive salary and benefits packages. Of the sixteen individuals who were not offered transition opportunities, three have already been hired within their home division of Business Services and one has transferred to the Medical Center. At least two others have already found opportunities outside of the University. Several staff members who did transition to Barnes & Noble were offered promotions to higher level jobs within the organization and many will have access to growth opportunities at other B&N locations.

Student input will be vital and necessary to any decisions regarding changes to Dining Services. Soliciting and responding to student input has always been a hallmark of Hospitality Services and will continue to be an important tool for evaluating our alternatives going forward. It should be noted here that there are absolutely no ongoing negotiations with any outside vendor regarding outsourcing Dining Services.

Mr. Walton states unilaterally that outsourcing Dining Services would reduce the quality of service and increase costs to students. It is hard to understand how he could have reached that conclusion without doing the kind of thorough review and analysis that the Division of Business Services intends to undertake. We fully expect that this comprehensive review will take the better part of the coming academic year, and that it will provide ample opportunity for student input.

John A. Fry, Executive Vice President

Steven D. Murray, Vice President, Business Services


Volume 43 Number 1
July 16, 1996

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