The Minaret is quite aware of the fact that campus dining services often make easy targets for impatient and unscrupulous college students. It was therefore with the greatest caution that we decided to question the role of Sodexho at the University of Tampa.
The sole arrest of an employee, in and of itself, is not an issue of imminent concern. Neither is an alteration in meal policy that, after all, corrected itself in the face of student pressure. Even a few health violations are routine and surprisingly standard for buffet-style dining, though the extent of these violations is certainly a cause for concern.
But taken together, even allowing for a possible coincidence of timing, The Minaret had to begin to question whether these perceived aberrations were not actually predictable consequences of underlying structural problems in UT’s arrangement with Sodexho.
As we began to investigate each of the three issues simultaneously, a common finding led us to ask these questions. Each time we noticed in Sodexho either a lack of accountability or a lack of transparency, that led us to question the wisdom of UT selling students’ diets to a private, profit-oriented corporation.
Our readers last year may recall the story of Eureka Patterson, the Einstein Bros. employee arrested for fraud, previously allowed to continue working here despite having served jail time for battery with a deadly weapon. Summer months excluded, Erika Dennis’ recent arrest therefore marks the second consecutive month that a Sodexho employee was arrested.
Again allowing for a possible coincidence of timing, it is still worth questioning whether Sodexho gets what they pay for in terms of employees. Known for their poor wages and notorious for their anti-union activities,-according to corporatewatch.org, Sodexho’s anti-unionism contributed to several institutions ending their relationship with the corporation-Sodexho saves even more on wages by opting for seasonal employment and laying off their workers over the non-school months.
With such poor compensation to their employees, is it any wonder that they occasionally attract those plagued with criminal inclinations? With two employees having been arrested for violent offenses, is this emphasis on the bottom line responsible for jeopardizing the safety of UT students?
That the General Manager of Dining Services was unaware that an employee was wanted for a local pickup testifies to a lack of accountability that Minaret reporters have noticed in greater depth in Sodexho’s operations.
When confronted with 19 critical health violations listed by state inspectors in the last eight months, their safety coordinator, Sharon Pruginic, simply denied that they ever occurred, even though her boss, Amy Truong, admitted to their validity. This lack of accountability is perhaps reflective of a disinterest in student safety, or possibly a prioritization of interest in public relations, that contributed to the alarmingly high number of violations in the first place.
Investigating other stories, The Minaret occasionally saw this lack of accountability combined with a lack of transparency where both shortcomings seemed to reflect a concern for profit at odds with a concern for students.
Perhaps the most striking example of a lack of transparency in recent years is the attempt by Sodexho to change the basic structure of students’ meal plans without consulting or even informing the students after the fact.
When a senior Dining Services authority told The Minaret that he was not even aware of the change in meal plan policy until a few days after it had been effectual, it became obvious that a familiar lack of accountability accompanied this egregious lack of transparency.
Dean of Students Bob Ruday has confirmed to Minaret reporters that no students were consulted in the formulation of the “meal period” policy, and Dining Services General Manager Amy Truong admitted that there was no effort to notify students of the major change.
Though Truong denied to Minaret reporters that the change in policy was a “money-making scheme,” she did not deny that it would potentially have saved Sodexho money. That students were not even informed, much less consulted, about the policy alteration indicates that they may be seen as a “captive audience,” forced by the University to pay Sodexho so long as they live on campus and therefore impotent to combat any policies imposed on them. There is every reason to believe that the potentially profitable policy for Sodexho would never have been rescinded were it not for the concerted and extended protest of large segments of the student body.
When profits and people collide, the University should side with its students. Do we really think that the most efficient way to feed our students is contracting to a profit-oriented multinational corporation, the second largest caterer in the world?
Insofar as this large organization can subject its desire for income to a desire for the well-being of UT students, few would question the University’s relationship with Sodexho. But the confluence of recent events has led The Minaret to question this possibility. Perhaps it is time that others questioned it as well.
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