Aramark overhaul dominates Faculty Senate meeting

Deborah Smith, an associate professor of philosophy and the Faculty Senate chair, stands by as Shay Little, the vice president of student affairs, explains the changes coming to the university’s relationship with Aramark during the Faculty Senate meeting Monday, Nov. 13.

Nicholas Hunter

“This fall, the Kent State community experienced dining and catering services far below our collective aspirations and expectations and also below promises made by the Aramark team during the lengthy bid evaluation process,” said Shay Little, the vice president of student affairs, at the Faculty Senate meeting Monday.

Aramark, a food service company that signed an eight-year contract as Kent State’s exclusive food vendor over the summer, has been under scrutiny by faculty in past Senate meetings.

“Those high expectations for a transformed dining program completely unraveled in the months to come,” Little said. “And as I’ve heard from many students, faculty and staff, our start of the fall 2017 school year with our new Dining Services partnership was an exceptionally challenging one. Our students and our community all deserve much better.”

In response to the criticism, Little said she began an eight-week process two months ago to reconstruct the Aramark and Kent State partnership.

Eight issue areas were addressed in her reconstruction process by creating teams to assess the issue and come up with solutions. The issues addressed included catering, Kent and regional campus operations, information technology, personnel, finances, quality of products and marketing/communications.

Representatives from both Aramark and the university were part of these teams.

Little also said she met with Aramark’s executives to detail the university’s concerns. University President Beverly Warren has called Aramark’s president of higher education, Pat Boggs, to obtain assurance that the company would commit to improving services.

“We have clearly heard the committee’s concerns and disappointment in the Dining Services’ level of service and have deployed multiple teams to aggressively address them,” Little said.

Sherwood Lincoln, a senior resident and district manager for Aramark, also spoke at the meeting, addressing the concerns brought forth by Little.

Lincoln said a third-party auditor will be brought in beginning next week to evaluate Aramark’s performance.

“We are conducting daily audits of our menu and nutritional program at every location, and we’re conducting service excellence training observations at every location weekly,” Lincoln said. “All of these efforts are designed to help us better understand where we need to focus so we can continue to move this thing forward.”

Lincoln touted the opening of a new dining location at the Kent State Salem campus and the opening of a full-service Starbucks in the University Library, as well as plans for a new Starbucks to be built on the Esplanade near the Business Administration Building and renovations of the Eastway dining area.

The floor was then turned to faculty to ask questions and express concerns.

“We spent over a decade trying to enhance the relationships between the university and downtown,” said Dave Kaplan, a professor of geography. “Kent has undergone this renaissance; there are new businesses everywhere, and one of the most disturbing parts of this agreement as I understood it was that many of these businesses could not be involved in catering functions for the university.”

“We want to have pride in Kent. That’s one of the biggest things that’s happened to our community since I’ve been here. And to risk that for an agreement like this, I think, is just a tragedy.”

John Stoker, an assistant professor of English at Kent State’s Ashtabula campus, said he believes Aramark may have been in over its head by taking on the university as a client.

“My dad had a steel fabricating company called Stoker Steel,” he said. “He had to know when a building was too big for his capacity for his company. And it seems to me, from where I sit, that that’s what happened here. We are too big, too broad, too much for Aramark to handle.”

Aside from Aramark issues, the topic of the university’s hired branding agency, 160over90, was brought forth during Deborah Smith’s remarks at the beginning of the meeting.

After praising the familiarity of the university’s current branding initiative, Smith, who is the Faculty Senate chair and an associate professor of philosophy, provided an alternative way to move forward with that initiative.

“What I’m critical of is the use of a national branding agency such as 160over90 by a public university that has as much in-house talent as does Kent State and the other (Mid-American Conference) institutions,” Smith said.

She recommended the university turn toward the College of Communication and Information and the College of the Arts — both faculty and students — to generate branded material.

“The faculty in these colleges are experts in their respected areas, and the undergraduates and graduate students we teach are experts-in-training,” Smith said. “I have no doubt that the faculty in our School of Visual Communication and Design, and perhaps other schools in the College of Communication and Information and in the College of the Arts, are aware of the latest research in the science of branding.”

Smith suggested an internal competition be held to generate the branding initiative, rather than bringing in 160over90.

“To date, Kent State has agreed to pay 160over90 over $2.5 million to develop our brand,” Smith said. “I realize that developing a brand using the in-house talents of the faculty, staff and students is easier said than done.

“But it does seem like we could have started an internal competition to create a branding strategy — one with a generous prize, say, of $20,000. For the money you’ve already spent on the contract with 160over90, we could’ve run such a competition every year for the next 100 years.”

To end the meeting, new business was addressed, which included the changing of the name of the master’s of fashion program to master’s of fashion industry studies. In addition, a new master’s program, called clinical epidemiology, in the College of Public Health which will be offered as both a full online and hybrid class program, was approved.

The last Faculty Senate meeting of the semester will be held Dec. 11, the first day of finals week.

Nicholas Hunter is the academic affairs reporter. Contact him at [email protected].