Officials at MCTC will name four finalists for food service contracts on Monday amid criticism over a secretive evaluation process, according to an email sent Friday by Director of Auxiliary Services Gary Westerland. The contract of the college’s current vendor, Sodexo, is set to expire July 1.
Dunn Brothers Coffee and Espresso Royale will vie for a single location, either in place of Josephine’s Café in the Technical building skyway or in the newly renovated Helland Center. The location has yet to be determined and will be finalized in contract negotiations.
Sodexo and Lancer will compete for the remainder of the campus’ venues, including the cafeteria and whichever space is vacant after the coffee house’s location is determined.
A committee composed of students and college staff evaluated the proposals submitted by prospective vendors based on a dozen criteria: “Vendor Stability, Soundness, Experience;” “Ability to Meet Demands of Campus Community;” “Menu: Traditional, Vegetarian, Vegan, Uniqueness;” “Retail Pricing/Value;” “Financial Compensation to MCTC;” “Healthy Options, Fresh Preparation;” “Cultural Awareness;” “Sustainability;” “Creativity;” “Marketing/Promotion;” “Presentation” and “Intangibles.”
The college also received proposals from A’viands, which operates food service at nearby Augsburg College, and Treat America, a Shawnee Mission, Kan.-based firm.
The four finalists will participate in a forum in the theater (located in the Whitney Fine Arts building) on Thursday, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., to gather public feedback prior to awarding the contracts. Students, faculty and staff are invited to share their perspectives.
“It just seems fixed to me”
Some of those close to the committee’s deliberations expressed frustration at the process, citing the committee’s secrecy and an inability to discuss prospective proposals with the student body, which the vendors will mostly serve.
One source took issue with the timing of the process. The source came forward on the condition of anonymity because the information was not yet public. “[Westerland] chose the most inopportune time to review the proposals. It is the end of the semester, and obviously, people are very busy,” the source said. “Also, Sodexo’s contract is up in July, so it just seems fixed to me.”
The source questioned the selection process for the committee, asking why certain staff were on it, why the committee had only two students and why student senate president Brad Conley was not a participant.
“I would think nutrition instructors and others would be interested in this process,” the source continued.
The committee reviewed the vendor proposals in the information technology department offices. Making copies of the proposals was prohibited, and constrained office hours made it difficult to review them comprehensively, the source said.
A member of the MCTC Student Senate’s Facebook group, Randy McCallum, posted the criteria for evaluating proposals sometime last week. However, the post has since been removed. Westerland asked committee participants to “continue to follow my direction of no outside communication related to committee activity and discussion” in advance of the official announcement.
When government entities such as MCTC solicit proposals from companies, state law considers those submissions private, nonpublic data until finalists are determined. Because the amount of this contract exceeds $100,000, a notice of the request for proposals must be published in a newspaper. The notice was published in the April 2 edition of the State Register. The deadline for submissions was set for April 16. According to a source close to the matter, the evaluation deadline passed on Thursday.
Asked whether the public forum would allow students to influence the final outcome, the source responded, “If the process is not skewed and students attend the forum, I think it will help influence the final decision. Students have not been given the opportunity to gather thoughts and information, so I am not sure if they will even know what to ask.”
Local businesses versus multinational corporations
When Student Senate President Brad Conley called for a boycott against Sodexo, students raised complaints on the price and diversity of food that the vendor offers on campus.
The new contract represented an opportunity to embrace “local” food venues instead of “massive corporations,” the source said.
Sodexo’s competitor Lancer received top marks for sustainability, ethnic diversity and affordability, according to the source. Lancer reportedly stated in its proposal that the company would interview current Sodexo employees to retain employment within the community.
The coffee shop companies competing for a spot did not draw much ire, as “Espresso Royal is not a franchise and Dunn Brothers is locally owned,” the source said.
The source concluded, “I think if Sodexo’s contract is renewed, we will be a very disappointed community at MCTC.”