Ten Years With Aramark: What’s Next? Other Universities Opt Out After Controversies

Photo Credit/ Ayanna Totten
ESU will begin the bidding process for dining services started Aug. 1, 2019.

Ayanna Totten 

Staff Writer 

Aramark, the Philadelphia-based dining vendor for ESU and other colleges and universities nationwide, has come under fire in recent headlines.

According to Barnard College and New York University’s student newspapers, neither school renewed their contracts with Aramark.

Both universities selected Chartwells as their new dining service provider.

NYU’s Lipton Dining Hall had a failed health inspection in November 2017, and a racially insensitive Black History Month meal was served at Downstein Dining Hall in February 2018.

In addition to ribs, cornbread and collard greens, the meal included red Kool-Aid and “watermelon-flavored water.”

However, the failed health inspection incited the request for proposal (RFP) process.

The transition is also in response to student activists at NYU and Barnard College protesting Aramark’s involvement with private prisons.

For almost 40 years, Aramark has provided meals to offenders in local correctional facilities throughout the United States.

Karen Cutler, vice president of Communications and Public Affairs at Aramark, explained that there’s significant confusion surrounding the service Aramark provides.

She stated that while there are companies that operate private prisons and food service companies that manage private prisons, Aramark doesn’t do either.

“We understand and respect the passionate debate around this topic, but we disagree with how Aramark is being characterized and cast as part of the problem,” Cutler said.

She stated that Aramark believes all customers, whether they’re students or offenders, deserve healthy and nutritious meals.

Cutler emphasized that Aramark’s services help maintain “safe, stable environments” and save taxpayers millions of dollars. The food service company also offers a vocational training program to rehabilitate offenders.

“We proudly partner ESU and hundreds of other colleges and universities around the country,” Cutler said.

Some ESU students said that Aramark’s recent scandals, specifically the Black History Month menu at NYU, should be taken into consideration during ESU’s extensive RFP process.

“I personally think [ESU] should select a new vendor,” said sophomore Angelica Ortiz. “But, at the same time, I haven’t seen that type of incident here.”

“As an extremely diverse school having students from all different backgrounds, races and places, we cannot accept a vendor participating in stereotypes that blatant,” said freshman Emily Jimenez.

The controversy hasn’t spread to ESU, but it comes at a sensitive time.

Dr. Doreen Tobin, vice president for Student Affairs, stated that the university is at the end of its 10-year contract with Aramark. The partnership included a seven-year contract followed by three one-year contracts.

ESU will begin the bidding process for dining services on Aug. 1, 2019. The new contract will be in effect from June 2020 to 2027, with the option for three one-year extensions through May 2030.

Dr. Tobin and Curtis Dugar, director of housing and dining services, have assessed both Aramark and non-Aramark food services at other colleges and universities this year, said Dr. Tobin. Studying food trends is one of the first steps toward building a new RFP, or request for proposal, she added.

As part of the state system of procurement, ESU develops criteria for selecting a dining vendor. Vendors must then submit a proposal detailing how they intend to meet the university’s standards.

Key criteria include pricing, equipment, personnel, food stations, themed meals, nutritional signage, facilities maintenance, servings and portions, hours of operation and food grade and purchasing requirements. 

According to Dr. Tobin, the selected vendor is expected to maintain the highest standards of integrity in performance of the contract. 

The vendor can’t violate Pennsylvania contracting regulations or any state and federal laws. Nondiscrimination and sexual harassment policies must also be followed.

An RFP committee consisting of students, faculty and staff reviews vendor proposals, but the members haven’t been identified yet.

The selected people are required to be familiar with dining services, such as catering, special events and food court and retail operations. Individuals who are knowledgeable about facilities, equipment and financial submissions are also part of the committee.

For more information on Aramark and ESU dining, visit esu.campusdish.com.

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