Clarifying dining concerns: UK has students’ best interest at heart

Jared Flanery’s op-ed in the April 22 edition of the Kernel recounted many compelling issues surrounding the question of how UK will provide dining services in the future.

So many people – students, faculty, staff and visitors to campus – have added their voice in a thoughtful way to this critical issue and Mr. Flanery’s piece is one of them.

However, several points he raises need clarification as they speak to the most important goal UK has in this process: Creating the best possible dining service for our students, faculty, staff and those who visit campus.

How do we achieve that outcome?

We start with the commitments the institution is making, many of which need some clarification, given the arguments put forth by Mr. Flanery.

First, the Requests For Proposal that the Dining Revitalization Committee – with faculty, staff and student representation – is soliciting will include a provision that all full-time dining employees, on the university payroll as of February 1, will remain UK employees with the same salary and benefits.

Second, if the university ultimately decides to move forward with a business partner there will be a requirement that student workers continue to be employed.

As part of that process, we have researched an issue that Mr. Flanery raises in his letter. There is nothing that prohibits our international students from working with a business partner to provide food services.

Third, we will continue the strong commitments to sustainability and the partnership with the Kentucky Proud Program.

In fact, as our student population grows and more students live on campus, we hope to find ways to strengthen and increase these commitments and partnerships.

Fourth, we are committed to providing more food options, and healthier food options for those who use this important service.

That’s why we are here.

Over the next several years, UK could add up to 9,000 student residence hall beds – part of a dramatic transformation of living and learning space on campus.

Why is that important? We know that students perform better and graduate at higher rates when they live on campus and are engaged with university life. We must have the kind of modern, high-tech living space that encourages collaboration and learning.

As we build that kind of living space, we will need renovated, expanded and new dining facilities to accommodate our students, faculty, staff and visitors.

No matter which path we take – whether it’s with a business partner or whether we maintain an internal dining operation – change and transformation will be necessary.

We will need to make millions of dollars in investments in this operation so that it grows in a way to best serve the university and the community.

That transformation is a matter of when, not if.

The question is how – how do we build the best possible dining services operation for all those we serve?

As we have endeavored to answer those questions, we have maintained a commitment to engaging often with employees and those who are served by the dining operation.

Thoughtful, engaging questions have been raised, the kinds of questions that will help us provide the kind of model dining operation that we all want.

We will continue that commitment to dialogue with everyone who is so invested in this operation and in the university that we all care about so much.