Students interrupt UK Board of Trustees meeting to protest food services company

lblackford@herald-leader.comApril 1, 2014 

The University of Kentucky's usually staid board of trustees meeting was interrupted Tuesday by a group of students who oppose UK's planned outsourcing of its dining services.

"No outsourcing and no Sodexo," the students chanted, holding placards behind a velvet rope that separates board members from the audience. UK has not yet chosen a vendor, but Sodexo already represents several other schools in the state.

UK-United Students Against Sweatshops said they were concerned about UK possibly choosing Sodexo, a multinational food services company that has switched some of its full-time food service workers to part-time status due to the national health care law.

UK-USAS spokesman and UK senior Brock Meade said his group is proud that Kentucky is a national leader in enrolling people in the Affordable Care Act insurance system, and Sodexo contradicts those values.

"We oppose outsourcing, but we especially oppose Sodexo," Meade said before the meeting.

The students had not filled out paperwork 48 hours before the meeting that is required to officially address the board. Instead, they stood up during the meeting and performed a call-and-response chant for a couple of minutes.

The students got support from an unexpected source: Trustee Jo Hern Curris, an attorney and alumni representative on the board who said she did not know the students were planning to attend or interrupt the meeting.

In a speech she gave near the end of the meeting, Curris said she was concerned that trustees hadn't been given details about why it made sense for UK to outsource dining services. Nor were they told that UK's multi-million dollar contract with a private developer to build dorms did not include any new, much-needed dining facilities, she said.

Curris said UK dining services had developed important relationships with food producers across the state, and those relationships would be threatened by an outside vendor. Revenue generated by dining services has also benefited various buildings and programs on campus, she said.

"We have not considered the lost opportunity costs, and I think we ought to strongly consider them," Curris said.

UK set up a committee that spent about a year discussing the proposal to outsource dining services. The request for proposals that went out required any vendor to spend up to $50 million on new facilities and at least $2 million a year on local-grown products.

The board did not discuss Curris's speech.

Arboretum agreement

The University of Kentucky expects to soon sign an agreement with the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government to operate The Arboretum, extending an existing partnership to 2086.

The new agreement, which requires the 100-acre property to remain devoted to passive recreation and open space, will allow for more long-term fund raising, Bob Wiseman, UK's vice president for facilities, told the board of trustees.

UK and the city have jointly operated the state botanical garden of Kentucky since 1986. UK pays for about $550,000 in annual maintenance, while the city has contributed capital projects, such as the entrance and bathrooms, Wiseman said.

The Arboretum director reports to the dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, and to an 11-member advisory board appointed by the UK president and the Lexington mayor.

Wiseman said the new agreement did not happen because of a crisis, but because The Arboretum needs a stronger endowment to pay for maintenance and projects. In addition, the property's borders needed to be more precisely defined because of proposed work along Alumni Drive.

"I think the Arboretum needs a solid financing plan for the future," Wiseman said.

New programs

More degrees will be available to hopeful writers from the University of Kentucky after the board of trustees on Tuesday approved two new programs.

The board unanimously approved the creation of a masters degree in creative writing, which will become the only residential Master's of Fine Arts program in the state. UK's creative writing division features such faculty as state Poet Laureate Frank X Walker and Manuel Gonzales, who recently received an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award for his first book.

Dean Mark Kornbluh called UK's creative writing program a "shining star" in the College of Arts and Sciences.

The board also approved a new department of Writing, Rhetoric and Digital Studies. Officials said the department will allow students to graduate as experts in writing and advocacy, as well as digital media.

The board also approved a new department of urology within UK HealthCare, which is expected to help the hospital recruit new doctors and research dollars.

In addition, the board approved a new joint executive Master's of Business Administration program between UK and the University of Louisville. The program will be a "weekend" course, which will allow more mid-career people to enroll.

Major gifts

The board accepted two major gifts Tuesday. The first was $10 million from an anonymous donor through the Bluegrass Community Foundation to help fund a new football practice facility. Officials said the $10 million is part of $23 million already pledged toward the $45 million project.

UK also received a $7 million pledge from Lexington resident and UK alumnus Joan Kincaid. About $1 million will got to a yet-to-be-determined project at the UK Chandler Hospital. The bulk of the gift will become the Kincaid-Central Bank auditorium in the renovated Gatton College of Business and Economics. Kincaid is the daughter of Garvice Kincaid, who founded Central Bank.

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

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service