Contractor to manage GovCo eating clubs

May 20, 2011, 3:04 a.m.
Contractor to manage GovCo eating clubs
Students eat lunch on the picnic tables at Governor's Corner Dining Society, the group of eating clubs that serves Suites. A new Residential Education policy will put the clubs under the management of a contractor, significantly reducing their autonomy. (HELENA VILLALOBOS/The Stanford Daily)

The University is soliciting contractors to take control over the management of Governor’s Corner Dining Society, also known as the Suites eating clubs. According to Suites eating club chief executive Morgan Priestley ’12, Student Organized Services (SOS), which also manages Row chefs and trains some self-op staff, will receive the contract.

The contractor’s role will be to oversee the chefs at the Avanti, Beefeater, Bollard and Middle Earth eating clubs, managing their payrolls and evaluating chef performance, according to Residential Education (ResEd) Director of Operations Aaron Buzay.

The process has been complicated by allegations that ResEd Assistant Director Zac Sargeant’s role presents a conflict of interest. His brother-in-law and former employer, Nick Peters ’94, is the chief executive officer of SOS.

Some of the chefs and managers allege that Sargeant pushed SOS as the contractor of choice. Sargeant declined to comment.

The relationship, confirmed by Peters, has led some of the chefs and managers to cry foul. The concerned chefs and managers said that at their last meeting about the dining changes, ResEd Associate Dean Nate Boswell took Sargeant’s normal place.

“Residential Education has been deliberate to ensure that all conflicts of interest and/or perceived conflicts of interest have been addressed,” wrote Buzay in an email to The Daily.

Former eating clubs CEO Josh Charnin-Aker ’11 and former CFO John Criste ’11 took their concerns about a conflict of interest to ResEd Dean Deborah Golder.

“We were concerned about the conflict of interest having Zac on our case posed and first she kind of brushed it off, and didn’t really say there was a conflict of interest,” Criste said. “She said there is no conflict of interest.”

Criste said he and Charnin-Aker asked if students would maintain leadership at Suites Dining. The former managers said Golder reportedly told them they could speak to “people above her” for clarification about the reasons behind the changes, but didn’t specify who they were.


Management history

One consequence of the bid is the four chefs don’t have contracts for next year — a predicament unseen in the nearly thirty years that the dining society has been operating. This year’s contracts expire June 9, thereby ending the chefs’ health insurance benefits. The dining society has elected to cover chefs’ health expenses out of pocket until contracts are renewed.

In the past, the club managers have been responsible for collecting board bills and hiring and firing chefs. Typically, chefs have signed their contracts for the following year by the middle of May, but contracts can’t be renewed until a vendor comes in, said Buzay.

“Every spring, we’ve got like 15 years of contracts in our managers’ office. We negotiate a contract with each of the four chefs, and we say, ‘Here’s what we like, here’s what we don’t like, here’s what we want you to do differently and here’s what we’re going to expect from you,’” Priestley said. “And then we evaluate them appropriately and if we want to hire them back then we hire them back.”

But the University no longer considers the eating clubs’ autonomy appropriate and has taken steps to bring the dining society further under its wing.

Several years ago, the University began collecting Suites board bills and the eating clubs signed a contract with Student Housing stipulating that Stanford janitors would clean the common areas and bathrooms.

The ultimate changes have been waiting in the wings since at least the beginning of the school year. In September, ResEd hired Buzay from Bethel University as director of operations, tasking him with ensuring ResEd’s “compliance with University standards and to upgrade operational policies,” Buzay said. According to Buzay, ResEd has identified “several areas in need of improvement” — for Suites, ResEd’s goal is to “prioritize a student management approach” and “adjust and adhere to institutional policy while limiting risk to the University. “The selection of an external vendor to manage chef contracts and help students supervise the chefs is the last change necessary to ensure compliance with University policy and best practices, although refinement of policy and practice will be ongoing,” Buzay added.

One other recent change is student manager and hasher paychecks go through the University payment system. Hashers had not been paid since winter quarter until last Tuesday, which managers argued was in violation of California labor relations law, since employers are required to pay employees within a month of services rendered.

“It’s just an inefficient process at this point,” said eating clubs CFO J.T. Sullivan ’11.

For the time being, chefs are still paid through ADP, a private accounting company.

“The other problem with this whole process is we are being filled in on the fly with some of the things that they want to do,” Priestley said. “There’s a lot of things that we’re fighting, but there’s a lot of things we’re never going to agree to and never would have agreed to if we knew everything the first time. When we ask a tough question, a lot of the times the answer we get back is, ‘we don’t know, we haven’t gotten there yet.’”


Delayed notification

“At the beginning of the quarter, our understanding was that we meet with [ResEd representatives] at least once a week,” Priestley said. “My understanding was they wanted to watch over what we were doing,” akin to the practice of monitoring Row finances that ResEd implemented at the start of spring quarter.

“Which at first we were upset about,” he added, “because we’ve handled this well for 28 years, and people don’t walk off with money because somebody else would notice.”

Both the CEO and CFO watch the same account and monitor the other managers’ accounts, and the chefs are aware of weekly expenses.

“On the other hand it was sort of okay,” Priestley said. “We understand where they’re coming from — see where students’ money is going, right? And then we find out…that they’re going to contract an outside vendor.”

The first the chefs heard of the contractor bid was via rumors passed through University staff, said Middle Earth chef Steven Roland. The chefs informed the managers and both parties later met with ResEd. But after requesting a written plan for the changes several weeks ago, neither the chefs nor the managers have received any paperwork to date.

“Ultimately, the outside contractor will be the company that will lay down the law when it’s pertaining to us chefs,” Roland said. “And they blatantly said our salaries will be reduced and our benefits will most likely not mirror the package that we have today.”

“When I asked [Sargeant] whether he going to reduce my salary, he said yes, meaning he knows the vendor is going to do it,” added Bollard chef Frank Hassan.

Buzay said chef compensation would not be set until a contractor is identified. He is “aware” that Suites chefs are among the highest-paid on campus, and said ResEd will have no opinion on chef compensation “until a complete contractual review has been conducted.”

Managers were told they would have input on salaries, but will have no influence on chef benefits.

ResEd “wants to retain the flexibility of the dining societies to manage their finances and operations in connection with the residential programs as much as possible,” Buzay said. What this means, he said, is that students will be allowed “to offer input into the performance of chefs as well as overall operation of the dining facilities and other local operations.”

“As you can imagine, most external vendors do not allow for this operational flexibility and are hesitant to prioritize student led input,” he added.

Regardless, students will be part of a “yearly review of chef staff and the implementation [of] potential raises.”

“We believe deeply in the unique nature of student management and leadership that the Row and Suites afford Stanford students and we are committed to preserving the core tenets,” Buzay said. “We are also committed to and responsible for upholding the standards of the University.”

Chefs have prepared over the last week to apply as contractors themselves, although they are likely too late. Managers remain opposed to ResEd’s changes and three chefs are retaining legal counsel, saying they intend to fight for their jobs.

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