Students skeptical of joint food deal

DSU President doesn’t think Dal’s offer is worth it

Friday, November 26. 2010- The Dalhousie Gazette

Samantha Durnford, News Editor and Bethany Horne, Copy Editor

Chris Saulnier, the president of the Dalhousie Student Union (DSU), is unhappy with the university’s offer to take over food in the student union building.

“This is not something the student union went out looking for. The university approached us. What we have to ask ourselves as a student union: is this worthwhile?” Saulnier said at a town hall meeting with students on Nov. 24 in the SUB.

The university wants to put $6 million into expanding the student union building so they can use the space to house a residence cafeteria for a new building to be constructed next to the SUB by 2013.

“I don’t think (the offer) is enough. I don’t think the university has given us enough to give up our sovereignty over food,” Saulnier said.

Bonnie Neuman, Dal’s vice president of student services, says that the university is better equipped to run food services than the student union is, “in terms of continuity and professional staff, and probably in terms of influence.”

Saulnier acknowledge that the food in the SUB could use some improvement. “Just because we aren’t doing food service as well as we should be, doesn’t mean we should give it up,” he says. “You should look to your council to do better than we have been.”

Neuman believes that the big companies who would manage the food contract in the SUB would react better to criticism from the administration, rather than from students. “It’s a fact of life, that if a university vice president complains to your service provider it’s going to get more attention than if your student union VP does, because the (food contract) manager knows the DSU VP is only going to be here for a year, but I’ll be here by the end of the contract,” Neuman says.

Saulnier says he doesn’t agree with this criticism and doesn’t think that it’s fair. “We’re elected by the people that are eating at this food service,” he says. “I think that we can do a fair job at reacting to student demands.”

Students at the meeting were concerned with the time-frame of the university’s proposal. Dal only made their final offer clear today and expects an answer on Dec. 1.They say that this is because contracts would need to be negotiated early next year.

Sebastian Labelle, an audience member, brought up that the fact that the DSU knew the food contract was going to expire for 10 years now. So, he says, the rush is manufactured.

“Pressuring the students into these ‘all or nothing deals’ … you may agree with some and not others, but it doesn’t matter: it’s yes or no, and that’s kind of what’s happening here,” Labelle said. When Saulnier was asked what would make a deal with the university worthwhile for him, he said he didn’t think it would include giving up control of food.

Saulnier says there has been no study asking students if they want an expansion of the SUB. He thinks that we can do a lot with what we have and that even with a projected increase in enrolment, the SUB isn’t “too crowded.”

The student group Loaded Ladle was in full attendance at the meeting and had strong opinions after the town hall. The Loaded Ladle has been in discussions with the student union to run an at-cost or low-cost food co-operative if provided with a kitchen and sales space in the SUB.

Shawna Jesin, a member, says the group opposes the joint contract deal the university has proposed.

“This is the student union building. This is for the students, by the students. That’s the way it should be,” she says.

“This is about so much more than just food. It’s about creating the community at Dalhousie which we’re lacking. And its our community that we need to be creating, we need to fix these problems ourselves.”

Loaded Ladle is against any exclusivity contract in the SUB that would limit the food vendors.

Another member, Xander Gopen said, “If a student wants a McDonald’s in (the SUB), I suppose we support that. It’s mostly about what is best for the students and them being listened to, responded to, and taken into account, which we feel doesn’t happen.”

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