As a Type 1 diabetic patient, fourth-year Ph.D. student Delaney Miller requires regular intake of insulin. She relies on a package center on the Stanford campus for medication delivery, but when she ordered her first shipment of insulin after the package center operator changed in September, the doses were nowhere to be found.
When Miller finally received her insulin — two days and multiple frantic emails later — the doses were unrefrigerated and at risk of spoiling.
“I’ve been receiving these deliveries through the mail at Stanford for the past three years and have never had an issue with delivery before this,” Miller said. “There was no reason for me to suspect that it would be a problem.”
The issue is rooted in Stanford’s decision to switch its mail service provider from FedEx to UG2, a facilities and custodial management company with which the University contracts. Miller’s story is not an isolated one — following the switch to UG2, undergraduates and graduate students alike have experienced difficulties with the new package center operator.
Students have reported delayed and lost packages, as well as hourlong wait times. While undergraduate students still rely on the package center at Tresidder Union, graduate students must pick up their packages from the new Graduate Package Center (GPC) — a change for Escondido Village Graduate Residences (EVGR) residents who used to be able to get packages delivered to their building.
Stanford and UG2 have attributed the initial confusion to an unexpectedly large volume of deliveries. The number of packages arriving to students on campus has seen a threefold increase in contrast to before the pandemic, according to a University spokesperson.
Residential and Dining Enterprises (R&DE) spokesperson Jocelyn Breeland said in a statement that though UG2 has processed more than 27,000 packages for students in the past two weeks, “there is no space on campus where this volume of mail and packages can be sorted, scanned and delivered efficiently.” Alternate locations for package processing and storage are being considered, she added.
In recent days, UG2 has managed to clear the backlog of packages and developed the capacity to process packages more efficiently, in part because of an expanded workforce and a new inventory management system. But some problems still remain.
Undergraduate package center at Tresidder
The issues associated with the early days of the quarter — like package delays and long wait times — stemmed from a lack of preparedness for the unprecedented number of packages that inundated the package center, according to UG2 employees.
While the start of the academic year is a busy time for the package center, the fact that the incoming undergraduate class, with 2,131 first-years and 66 transfer students, was the largest in Stanford’s history compounded the problem. The University’s target class size in previous years has been around 1,700 students.
“In the beginning, we weren’t quite set up to be able to take in that many packages,” said Jose Gonzalez, a project manager for UG2. “The space that’s down there is not enough to handle the volume of the packages.”
At the start, when packages were delivered by parcel carriers, they would be sorted by UG2 employees in alphabetical order based on last name. As packages were processed and ready for pick up, students received an email notification. The email, however, would often take days to come. And when the physical space began to overflow with packages, UG2 parked large Enterprise trucks and portable containers in the visitor lot at Tresidder Union.
The facilities and services company also had to recruit out-of-state employees to help staff the package centers. According to Gonzalez, more than 20 UG2 out-of-state employees have been brought to the Stanford campus, mostly management-level staff from the company’s corporate office in Boston.
The early blunders at the UG2 undergraduate package center caused lines to wrap around the building, forcing some students to wait hours to pick up their packages. When Roberto Lama ’22 went to the package center on Sept. 27, he was faced with an hourlong wait time.
“I’ve come three times to pick up packages and each time I’ve had to wait an hour,” Lama said. “It seems ridiculous to have 7,000 undergraduates pick up mail at this one location. It’s bound to cause delays,” he said, adding that having multiple package centers could help alleviate the bottleneck.
Lou Lanzillo, the CEO of UG2, said “We’ve been knocking ourselves out to try to get the problem fixed.”
“I hope that you appreciate that we are as frustrated and concerned and disappointed as you are. We certainly can empathize and we are very apologetic for what we have gone through to get to where we are. But we feel like we have turned the corner,” he said.
The University said that UG2 has added staff shifts during the late evenings and weekends, hired new employees to focus on addressing student questions and revamped its notification technology. The company is also providing disability accommodations, which includes delivering packages directly to student residences in some instances, Breeland said.
When UG2 officials realized that the alphabetized sorting was unsustainable, they switched their package processing to a barcode system that allows package center employees to track packages as soon as they are delivered to Tresidder.
Gonzalez said that the new system is far more efficient: “Now we’re good. We scan them in, it produces a label, and that label is assigned to a shelf” in the package center. Since the start of last week, UG2 has cleared the backlog of packages and has been processing packages for student pick-up in less than 24 hours, according to Breeland.
But still, Gonzalez said, holding packages in trucks is unsustainable. “It shouldn’t be like this — not from one truck to another and finally inside,” he said. “It’s a waste of time.”
Since R&DE and UG2 have so far been unable to identify a location on campus large enough to manage package delivery logistics, the University is considering alternate sites, Breeland said.
Issues for graduate students persist
While the undergraduate package center is quickly adapting to the increased package volume, graduate students reported continued issues surrounding accessibility concerns and other inconveniences. Graduate students who have previously lived on campus said the situation this year is not new.
For over a year, graduate students living in EVGR have been unable to order packages to their suite addresses. They have repeatedly reported finding their packages in piles in common rooms and outside the buildings. Some were also unable to register to vote in the 2020 presidential election with their EVGR addresses.
The switch to UG2 package management has been a mixed bag. Some graduate students living in EVGR have noticed an improvement in flat mail delivery, and many have reported that the implementation of the new Graduate Package Center (GPC) makes it easier to track package deliveries. Still, graduate students feel that the delivery system is incompatible with the promise of a permanent residence that students expected when they signed their EVGR leases.
Unlike most undergraduates, graduate students rely on Stanford to be a full-functioning home, with many living on campus year-round. Billed as a residential community that can accommodate 2,400 graduate students, EVGR highrise apartments are among Stanford’s most expensive graduate residences. But to retrieve packages, graduate students cannot list their “home address.” Instead, they must travel approximately one mile between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. to get their mail from the GPC.
“We’re getting immigration documents, paychecks, insurance billing, government IDs,” said Stephen Galdi, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in civil and environmental engineering. “We’re not being treated like an apartment complex, we’re being treated like a dorm and that just feels like false advertising. It’s just sad.”
According to Breeland, this issue stems from United States Postal Service (USPS) policies that distinguish between buildings on college campuses and apartment buildings. Despite engaging with USPS executives with the help of U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), Breeland said Stanford has been unable to change the agency’s position. The disagreement has led to accessibility concerns for disabled and injured students who cannot easily travel to GPC.
Since undergoing knee surgery, Faisal As’ad M.S. ’20, a second-year Ph.D. student in aeronautics and astronautics, has been unable to order packages, including a new government I.D., to the GPC.
“There are always alternatives, I can always carry around my passport while I travel,” As’ad said. “ But these are things I didn’t even think would ever be an issue. How is it possible that I’m living at an address that is not even considered to be a residential address?”
Those who live closer to the package center, in Escondido Village Lowrise Apartments, face a different set of problems.
Due to a lack of capacity for the package volume, UG2 has resorted to storing deliveries in package containers and trucks that line the residential roads outside of the lowrise apartments. Dan Muise, a third-year Ph.D. student, said that in addition to making noise and shining lights in the middle of the night, the trucks and package containers pose a safety concern to residents biking at night.
“I’m sure these workers are working extremely hard, I see them there all the time. And I get to listen to them all the time as well,” Muise said. “I really have no problem with them, but I have a huge problem with whoever thought this was a spot to set up business operations. It’s just fundamentally not.”
Breeland said that when R&DE learned of student concerns, they asked UG2 to bring members of its senior leadership team to campus. The executives, including UG2’s chief operating officer, came to Stanford in mid-September and are still on campus. She added that R&DE has held town hall meetings with students to address concerns and that UG2 will hold weekly office hours starting Oct. 7. So far, students have not been hesitant to share their thoughts on the situation during meetings with R&DE.
“I just want to know why students are neglected so much until we actually face issues that are completely inconveniencing us. I shouldn’t be dealing with this,” said Ajay Singhvi, a Ph.D. student and EVGR resident, at a town hall with R&DE and UG2 executives on Sept. 29. “Why is student input only taken into account when things blow up, rather than to make sure that this does not happen in the first place?”