University of Kentucky Weighs Dining Program Privatization

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Officials at the University of Kentucky are considering the privatization of the school’s popular dining program. Though the university says contracting with a private company could drastically improve campus food services, the proposal to shift the largely successful program into the hands a private company has been met with hesitation.

The UK Dining Revitalization Committee reports the school is in dire need of a new dining hall, which could cost millions. Committee members believe a private contract could potentially provide these new facilities at no cost to the school, and save even more in lowered operational costs. The committee has recently issued a request for proposals from major food service operators, and has reportedly received several undisclosed bids.

The university’s RFP dictates that any contracted company must maintain the existing UK Dining Partnership with the school’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. It also requires the continued purchase of local foods, as well as the expansion of healthier and more sustainable dining options. One major provision also protects the jobs of an estimated 240 current full and part time employees, as well as roughly 500 student workers.

Eric Monday, the university’s executive vice president for finance and administration assured the UK community that the public forums were valuable for the committee, and that no privatization decision would be made lightly. “As a result of this dialogue, we’ve listened and we’ve made improvements to our process, which will lead to a better result no matter which direction we take,” said Monday. “Our ultimate goal, though, has remained consistent throughout the process: creating the best possible dining service for our campus community and others who use this critical service.”

Meanwhile Lee Meyer, a Dining Revitalization Committee member believes not considering money saving options would be unwise. “I think UK Dining Services has been doing a great job … But I think the administration wants to, and really ought to, see what else is available.”
Ethics Reporter, a publication of the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission, said the trend toward privatization is gathering steam among the state’s universities. The report said the University of Kentucky in particular recently awarded various contracts to six different law firms, two outside marketing groups and two medical providers.

The RFPs will be reviewed this month by a committee of faculty and staff from the agriculture, health care and student affairs departments. Roshan Palli, student government president, is the only student body representative on the 13-member panel. The university’s president, Eli Capilouto, will make the final decision.