Jury still out on Sodexo decison

Two university administrators said they believe Marquette Student Government senators misinterpreted and misunderstood food service data and surveys when they voted to pass a recommendation that the university terminate its contract with Sodexo, according to e-mails obtained by the Tribune.

Vice President for Administration Arthur Scheuber and Alumni Memorial Union Executive Director Todd Vicker expressed their concern with the legislation in an e-mail chain among university administrators on Nov. 20, the day after MUSG passed its recommendation.

In the e-mails, Scheuber wrote he is unsure why senators recommended terminating the Sodexo contract, and that he and Vicker plan to continue working with the food vendor.

“Nowhere … is there any item that would suggest the level of dissatisfaction with Sodexo to warrant the type of legislation passed,” Scheuber wrote in one e-mail addressed to University President the Rev. Robert A. Wild, Provost John Pauly and Senior Vice President Greg Kliebhan. “I will work with Todd to reconvene the all campus food service committee as soon as possible to continue moving food service forward in conjunction with Sodexo.”

One of the main problems with the recommendation, according to Scheuber, was the information cited by the legislation’s authors.

He said in the e-mails that he was “amazed that they came to the conclusion based mostly on one survey,” and also said some of the information from the legislation and things mentioned during MUSG Senate debate was inaccurate. For example, he cited data that showed voluntary meal plans have doubled in the past two years.

Scheuber added that he had problems with the timing of one of the key surveys itself, done by the Association of College and University Housing Officers-International/Educational Benchmarking Incorporated, which was taken in the spring rather than at its usual time in the fall. He said he and Vicker both thought that could have impacted the survey’s validity.

Scheuber also said in the e-mails that he was partially confused because the authors of the legislation had met with Vicker and Jim McMahon, dean of residence life, earlier that month. According to Vicker, the authors had seemed “rather complementary of what has happened over the last few years, but they challenged us to do more particularly outside of the core of campus.” The authors told the administrators the dining facilities on the ends of campus have been neglected in improvement efforts.

The authors, however, say their conversation with Vicker helped them decide to lay the blame for dining services problems squarely at Sodexo’s feet.

Three of the legislation’s authors — Bill Doerrer and Giuseppe Pappalardo, both seniors in the College of Arts & Sciences, and Joey Ciccone, a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences — said in a prepared e-mail statement, “We are all very grateful for the time that the Office of Administration has put into working with MUSG this year … Our problem is not with members of that office but rather with a vendor that has not satisfied students.”

Earlier, Doerrer said in an interview that the authors’ meeting with Vicker demonstrated the administration was doing all it could. Therefore, he said, the problem must lie with Sodexo itself.

“It’s about time that someone gets held accountable,” Doerrer said.

The three senators all agreed that passing this legislation was in the best interest of students.

In a recent MUSG survey, food service was the number one concern identified by students, Pappalardo said.

Doerrer said the ACUHOI/EBI and MUSG surveys they cited, in addition to a survey done regularly by the AMU, completely supported what MUSG had been hearing from constituents: the dining halls were aesthetically pleasing and there were no problems with the Sodexo staff, but there were complaints about quality and the value of meals.

“There’s something to be said about staff and aesthetics … but that doesn’t change the fact that you’re paying about $10 a meal,” Doerrer said.

In regards to the surveys themselves, Doerrer said he and the other authors used the best data they could find. He said they asked for an executive summary of all surveys taken between fall 2006 to the present, but never received it.

“If someone has a complaint about our numbers,” Doerrer said, “they should have given us better numbers.”

The legislation’s authors said they would be surprised if the administration had a problem with the recommendation, but their job is to address students’ concerns, even if the result is not easy to accept.

“This is an opportunity, more than anything,” Pappalardo said.

Neither Schueber nor Vicker responded to requests for comment by deadline.

MUSG President Henry Thomas, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences, said via e-mail that he and MUSG Vice President Stephanie Stopka, a senior in the College of Business Administration, met with administrators late Wednesday afternoon to “explain and clarify the basic point of the legislation: to improve overall food quality at Marquette.”