Suites Dining, Week Two

March 4, 2013, 10:06 a.m.

In the last week, there has been a colossal campus and alumni response to ResEd’s proposed takeover of Suites Dining. After reading through the literally hundreds of emails and Facebook messages I’ve received – from Chi Theta Chi residents, from the co-ops, from students living on the Row, from old Suites alumni who remember the way things used to be – we’ve begun to form a coalition.

A coalition of students who know that Suites needs to be kept independent and its four loyal chefs rehired. A coalition of students who know ResEd needs long-term structural reform, not a short-term patch. And a coalition of students ready to fundamentally change the ways in which students and ResEd/R&DE administrators communicate on this campus.

We’ve split into two working groups: a group focused on Suites Dining for the short term, and a group focused on campus-wide solutions for the long term. I’ll start with Suites.

This Tuesday, Suites managers (and, for the first time ever, actual Suites residents) will begin discussions with ResEd administrators Aaron Buzay and Nate Boswell about the future of Suites Dining. We welcome the opportunity to talk, and our group has some clear goals with which we’ll go into tomorrow’s discussions. Here they are:

1) Rehiring the current four chefs – Tony, Frank, Dennis, and Caroline – at their current compensation level.

2) Maintaining complete student ownership and leadership of finances, hiring and hashing  – including the preservation of a permanent student CEO and CFO.

3) Refusing to compromise the quality and quantity of food provided and continuing to serve 17 high-quality meals per week to Suites residents.

4) Ending inefficient and costly ResEd restrictions on the way that Suites student managers can spend their own money. Most notably, we’d like to see an end to ResEd’s practice of earmarking an excessively high percentage of the Suites Dining budget for food purchases only. Since Suites chefs tend to utilize food efficiently and effectively, every Suites eating club currently has a huge budget surplus – currently a total of about $35,000 – sitting unused, restricted for use on food Suites doesn’t need to purchase.

That unused surplus is money wasted; at the end of the year, ResEd will sweep those accounts dry. That money could be used much more efficiently – for higher chef pay, for club improvements, or simply as an end-of-year refund to Suites residents. Let’s free it up.

5) Reducing the high cost of housing maintenance charged by R&DE and administrative overhead charged by ResEd. From the 2011-2012 to 2012-2013 academic year alone, Housing (a division of R&DE) raised its portion of the Suites board bill by $300 per student per year. If, as Boswell diplomatically suggested in ResEd’s official response last week, Suites residents are going to have to “ask beloved chefs difficult questions about their compensation packages,” we feel it’s only fair that R&DE and ResEd administrators start asking themselves those same difficult questions about their budgets.

We understand that the University has interests in maintaining oversight and ensuring that food service operations are conducted according to University policy. We have several specific solutions that we think would benefit both Suites Dining and ResEd administrators.

1) Longer training periods for student managers, a clear and consistent training manual for student staff and contracts with chefs and GCDS that last longer than the current one-year term. We understand that the high rate of turnover in student leadership has been a concern for ResEd, and establishing firmer lines of continuity from year to year should allay those concerns.

2) More sustained and reliable oversight from a strengthened Suites Dining Board of Directors, composed of former managers, CEOs, CFOs and students.

3) A clear delineation between the tasks for which ResEd is responsible and those for which GCDS is responsible in order to permanently clear up the confusion that has plagued relations between GCDS and ResEd for the past several years.

We hope that, as discussions begin, these are goals we can work with ResEd to help meet.

But our coalition also knows that, without broader structural reforms to the way ResEd and students interact on this campus, saving Suites Dining will merely be a surface-level fix to a deeper underlying problem. That’s where our long-term campus-wide working group comes in, and here are a few of our goals.

1) Establish a central online repository of information for use by future students. One of the main problems facing unhappy students has been a lack of institutional memory; students move on and graduate, the new freshmen never know Chi Theta Chi and Suites and the old Toyon Eating Clubs even used to be independent, and each year brings with it a gradual erosion of student freedom. We want to build a site where students can look back and see that their current problem – whatever it may be – is part of a broader interlocking system of past parallels and patterns.

2) Build an online performance review system for administrators and student managers, similar to Courserank in appearance and function. We have student reviews for professors, TAs and classes – why not have one for administrators, student Financial Managers and student Kitchen Managers?

Much as Courserank helps excellent professors stand out with five-star rankings and approving student comments, a new online performance review system could help top-notch administrators – of which Stanford is lucky to have many – stand out from the crowd, while administrators who communicate poorly or attempt to fire long-standing chefs are held accountable. Ranking criteria, from one though five stars: Clarity, Responsiveness, and Transparency.

3) Establish a student advisory panel within ResEd that has real power and represents student interests as a permanent nexus point between students and ResEd.

We have more long-term goals in the works, and I’ll share them with you in the weeks to come. Until then, thanks for reading, and keep up the fight!

Contact Miles at [email protected].

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