Chartwells good for profits, bad for students

By Jon Bullen

Chartwells, the U’s food services provider, is providing sky-high prices while paying little attention to core quality and value concerns.

Approximately 12 years ago, the U had its own dining service that wasn’t making any money, said Jerry Basford, associate vice president of student affairs. They decided to outsource, and Chartwells was chosen.

“The U has a guaranteed profit in the contract,” Basford said. “Every year since the contract was made, the U has surpassed their contractual requirements.

“The U is contractually obligated to abstain from releasing how much their contract is with the Chartwells,” he said. This stipulation in the contract would presumably be for competitors.

Although a profit is guaranteed for the U, I’m leery of third-party accountability, responsiveness to customers, and general value of products. The question is not whether outsourcing to Chartwells is best for the U, but if it’s best for students.

Chartwells employees are subject to the authority of the management, not the U. We can’t do anything but hope that Chartwells employees are being safe with the food that we put into our bodies.

Another problem is Chartwells’ responsiveness to customers8212;the U’s student body and faculty. When students or faculty members are unsatisfied with the high prices on campus and the general quality of products provided by the U, they must engage the bureaucracy of Chartwells. My guess is that’s where 99 percent of students simply give up, after realizing how daunting the task would be.

My third problem is with value, which is intimately tied to transparency. Overcharging students and faculty is my main concern here8212;as it was with Kellogg, Brown & Root’s contract with the U.S. government in its part in the occupation of Iraq. If the U is turning such a great profit every year, then why can’t the stupefyingly high food prices on campus be lowered enough to quell some of the burden on the hectic lives of students who decide to eat on campus?

The U outsources to a third party simply for profit. Whether students are receiving products with a value on par with the price is apparently not the case. An alternative could be to hire students and staff directly through the U. Accountability, responsiveness to customers and value would all be improved.

Another objection the U has to providing food in-house is that directly hired management would require health benefits.

Whether outsourcing the U’s food service to Chartwells is in the students’ best interests is an issue that cannot be determined until more information is made available to us. But it is clear that the U is turning a growing profit. In light of that, it ought to lighten up on the sky-high prices.

The alternative of bringing the production of food back in-house could mean a lot less money for the U, but the quality of life would be raised and students would be more satisfied.

letters@chronicle.utah.edu