University of Kentucky considers privatizing dining services

lblackford@herald-leader.comDecember 13, 2012 

The University of Kentucky is studying the possibility of outsourcing its dining services, a move that could affect 243 full-time and part-time employees and 501 student workers.

UK has hired a consultant for $55,524 to explore the issue and prepare a request-for-proposal document that will go out early next year. However, UK officials have said the university's dining department could be one of the bidders for the project.

The consultant, Envision Strategies of Greenwood Village, Colo., was brought in as a subcontractor by Sasaki and Associates, the firm that is updating UK's master campus plan. In addition, a task force of faculty and staff will study the issue.

With construction of new dorms, UK needed to rethink its dining service altogether, said Robert Mock, vice president for student affairs.

"Given the growth of the campus and changes in where students want to live, there will be a need to examine where future dining facilities are located," Mock wrote in an explanatory document about the process. "That process makes for an appropriate time to ask the question about how best to deliver dining services to the entire campus with the highest quality and in the most cost-effective manner."

In his written explanation, Mock makes clear that dining services must produce more money for the university.

"Regardless of the path chosen for how these services are provided, there is broad understanding that the revenues generated from dining operations help fund other vital student services within student affairs," Mock wrote.

If UK moves to an outside vendor, Mock said, President Eli Capilouto has made clear that the university would give "substantial consideration" to how much access current dining employees would have to jobs with the new service. In addition, the document said, the vendor would be encouraged to use student workers.

Mock said most Southeastern Conference schools use third-party dining services, but most of UK's benchmarks, more prominent state flagships, have maintained in-house dining.

The UK committee will consider the proposals and make a recommendation to Capilouto, who wants to make a decision by April.

Sheila Brothers, the staff member on the Board of Trustees, said she thinks UK is taking a "long, hard look at itself" with the proposal.

"They're trying to determine if the way we're doing things is the best way to support Kentuckians," she said.

Linda Blackford: (859) 231-1359. Twitter: @lbblackford.

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