Students on the Campus Auxiliary Services (CAS) board are criticizing the board after a miscommunication regarding the Request for Proposal (RFP) sent out to potential food providers and discontent with the drafting process.
During a board meeting on Sept. 19, member and student senator Roberto LoBianco and other students asked Executive Director of CAS Steven Deutsch for a copy of the final RFP before it was sent out, to which he agreed.
At this meeting, however, Deutsch said he told the board he was taking back control of the RFP process, as it was in danger of not being completed on time. Deutsch said Envision Strategies, the consultant selected by students to write the RFP, gave him a schedule to ensure the process finished by the time the current contract ended.
Deutsch said students on the CAS board were invited to read and give input on the document at an earlier meeting, but at the following meeting, which was intended to give feedback directly to the consultant, he said they spent half the time discussing adding students to the board.
At the meeting on Sept. 19, Deutsch said he realized they were “going backwards” and might not finish on time.
“I realized given the schedule, if we keep in this direction, if we keep revising the RFP document itself, we’ll never get it done,” Deutsch said. “So what I said to the CAS board was highlight the things that you think are the most important in an advisory capacity, give me what you want me to make sure gets covered in the RFP.”
Deutsch said when he agreed to send a copy of the RFP to students, he thought they just wanted to have the document before he “put it out on the street,” but soon realized there had been a miscommunication after an email exchange with LoBianco.
“He took that to mean that he could add more revisions, even though we had made it abundantly clear that was not going to be the case, that the time for board input was over,” Deutsch said.
However, LoBianco said the main issue was how late Deutsch sent them the final copy.
“We asked for a copy like a month before the deadline and I thought we’d be able to see it and look over it and even if we had comments to make, I didn’t expect that it would be put off until the day that it was going out,” LoBianco said. “That’s not what Steve agreed to do.”
LoBianco said the challenge of receiving the RFP reflected the process as a whole and the problems that come along with it. He said aside from two summer meetings with only one student (Student Association President Josh Simpson) present and the two September meetings, the majority of the document was created by Envision Strategies.
After researching, LoBianco said other schools such as Pace University establish committees made up of students, administrators, faculty and staff whose purpose is to draft the RFP.
When reading the RFP, LoBianco took issue with one part asking food service providers how they would bring a national brand to the Student Union (SU).
“There’s kind of a division between students about whether they want to see a national brand or not,” LoBianco said. “In the survey that the consulting group came out with, a huge number of students want to see local food, local businesses, sustainable practices and I don’t know that a national brand represents those interests.”
The survey also listed national brands and asked students how frequently they would visit each one, which LoBianco felt “skewed” results, as there was no section asking how often students would visit a local establishment if it were brought to campus.
He said having an accurate idea of what students want as well as their input is imperative, given the magnitude and effect of the RFP.
“It’s going to be a five-year contract and basically what goes into the RFP is exactly what goes into the contract. All the goals, the entire vision for the food service program for the next five years is defined by the RFP,” LoBianco said. “There’s a lot of changes that students wanted to see made and I don’t know if we had enough time to contribute as much to the document as we could have and should have been able to.”
While LoBianco believes students did not play a great enough role in developing the RFP, Deutsch said the process was “beyond transparent,” given that boards are often uninvolved in writing the RFP.
“Any of my colleagues who do this at other SUNY schools, when I told them what I was doing, were amazed,” Deutsch said. “They said ‘we don’t share this information with our boards typically.’”
CAS recently completed RFPs for many services such as the bookstore and cable service without the board, Deutsch said, but decided to take the “extra step” and involve them in the food service RFP because dining is a large part of CAS’s job and is something people feel strongly about.
In Deutsch’s opinion, the process got to a point where it was no longer productive and he feared that despite a year and a half of work, they might have to renew the contract with Sodexo for another year and extend the process.
Although he brought the board’s three main concerns of sustainability, wages and benefits for workers and national brands to the consultant and gave LoBianco the option of distributing another survey, the part regarding national brands was left in to better represent the whole student body, Deutsch said.
“I’ve been held hostage in this office by large athletes who want Taco Bell…so I know from my own experience that there are students who really want it, I also know there are students who really don’t want it,” Deutsch said. “The point is, with the RFP it’s just a question.”
The 54th student senate passed “Declaration #2,” dated Oct. 16, in response to the “violation of transparency” during the RFP process, advocating for total transparency in all future RFP processes assumed by the CAS board and emphasizing its importance.
LoBianco said he believes the problem not only lies in the RFP process, but in the model of contracting out food service. He said entering into contracts with “profit-driven” corporations leads to “less than optimal” results in food quality, environmental impact and health.
He said in the future he would like to see New Paltz revert back to the self-operating food service model it once had by creating a supply chain in the community.
“We’re in the Hudson Valley of all places, we’re surrounded by farms and produce of all kinds,” LoBianco said. “If we spend the next five years trying to create that new model, I think it could be successful in New Paltz of all