In June 2012, Kenyon announced plans to outsource its maintenance operations to the multinational corporation Sodexo. The backlash was swift. Rebecca Chowdhury ’13 started a change.org petition to scrap the plan, an initiative that garnered nearly 2,500 signatures — from students, professors, alumni and others. “Kenyon is a community, not a corporation, and we demand that it behave like a community, treating each of its members with the decency and respect they deserve,” Chowdhury wrote.
Often lost in the debate over Sodexo was the fact that Kenyon had long outsourced its dining operations — to Saga, Custom Food Service, Aramark and AVI Foodsystems, Kenyon’s most recent provider. But AVI was different from Sodexo. It was managed locally and sourced much of its food from local producers; students liked and respected the Peirce staff.
Yet it has become clear that AVI is not without its share of problems.
Many of the company’s Kenyon employees feel overworked and disrespected. Preparing three meals a day for over a thousand students is a grueling task. To be regularly harangued by one’s boss, as multiple AVI employees say they have been by executive chef Meagan Stewart, is bound to make the job even rougher. Of course, Stewart is not singly responsible for the strain Peirce’s chronic understaffing has put on AVI’s operations.
Kim Novak, director of the dining hall, is also responsible. As is AVI’s corporate management. So, ultimately, is Kenyon. If the College aspires to treat each member of its community with decency and respect, it has a duty to come to the aid of Peirce’s staff.
As former AVI employee Susan Payne wrote in an October letter to President Sean Decatur, “A vision statement must be put together for the students and the College so AVI will know what management concepts to adopt to treat their employees right.”
This is not a radical demand. Leaving AVI to its own, inadequate devices will not improve the working environment of Peirce’s staff. The College has a duty to ensure all who work on campus are treated fairly and respectfully. As worker complaints and long lines testify, Kenyon should reevaluate how AVI treats its workers and provides its dining services.