After refusing to leave a Campus Auxiliary Service (CAS) Board meeting, students were escorted out by University Police officials.
During last Wednesday’s meeting, the CAS Board called for an executive session after the 10 minutes designated for public comment ended. After the board voted 6-4 in favor of an executive session, a group of 15 to 20 students did not adhere to the request and refused to leave.
In response, CAS Board member Janet Cosh made a call to the University Police Department (UPD) at 10:56 a.m. to ask for help in escorting students out, according to UPD’s incident report.
The incident report said five UPD officers, including Police Chief David Dugatkin, reported to the College Terrace once the call was made. After 45 minutes, students and employees left the meeting.
Executive Director of CAS Steve Deutsch said the board had voted to go into executive session to allow board members the opportunity to speak more freely on concerns of performances made by food service vendors, Sodexo, Chartwells and Aramark.
“It was really hard to have a normal conversation to discuss the issues and performances with so many people there,” Deutsch said. “There was a ton of data and work done and the executive session is more about wanting to speak freely on what was observed by board members.”
Student senator and CAS representative Roberto LoBianco said even though he “sees to an extent” why administrators and faculty members on the CAS Board wanted to go into executive session, he believes it is wrong not to involve students in the discussion.
“These decisions that affect an entire campus should be made in full view of members of the campus, and we need to be able to have a dialogue on a level that reflects the decision and its impact on the public,” he said.
After the incident, students said they felt the call for executive session had been planned prior to the meeting, and that non-student members of the board had known about it while students did not. Student Association President Josh Simpson said the presence of CAS’ attorney made it seem like there was a decision made before the meeting to go into executive session.
“The moment Steve brought up the executive session, CAS’s lawyer was ready and prepared to present why legally the meeting could go to executive session,” Simpson said. “No one on the board seemed surprised by it except for the students.”
Deutsch said it is “silly” for anyone to believe that the reason executive session was called was to keep students in the dark.
“This was not orchestrated,” Deutsch said. “This is the most transparent we’ve ever been as a board, and there was nothing top secret or volatile or kept under wraps at previous meetings. All of the presentations are online for students to watch. I don’t want to keep people in the dark; I just want to create an environment where those who are making decisions feel comfortable and safe enough to ask questions and have a candid discussion.”
Simpson said, however, that with the student voice being the minority on the board, he believes student concerns and desires aren’t being taken as highly into consideration as they should be.
Between the time the public session closed and the vote for executive session was made, the board discussed the CAS budget for next year. Simpson said none of the student representatives on the board were as informed as non-student representatives, and that the meeting as a whole showcased how weak the student voice is in comparison to faculty and administrators.
“Even though Steve says people on the board hear what we [students] have to say and take our opinions into consideration, we don’t have the numbers on the board to get what we want accomplished,” he said. “If we want anything done, we have to have at least three other members of the board on our side, and that hardly ever happens. During this meeting in particular, we had no chance.”
President Donald Christian said it is “normal and ordinary” for meetings where the performance of employees and contractual issues to go into executive session, and that student beliefs of foul play concern him.
“The transparency accusation is one that doesn’t quite ring true for me,” Christian said. “I’m always disappointed when I see student leaders defy regular processes. For students to disrespect that basic element of the process, I found troubling.”
The meeting was originally intended for the CAS Board to vote on a new food service provider for the school. LoBianco said because of the time used to escort students out of the meeting, the board decided to postpone a decision on a new food contract until the next meeting.
“I had originally called for an extra 10 minutes of public comment which was voted down 6-4 by the board,” he said. “If we had had an extra 10 minutes for students to make their voice heard, we may not have run into a situation where we had to spend so long getting students to leave that we ended up not getting what we needed to get done accomplished.”
Should the CAS board not make a decision in time for the next school year, Sodexo will automatically have their contract renewed. Simpson said to default on Sodexo would be disrespectful to Chartwells, Aramark and the school.
“I don’t think Sodexo is right for New Paltz anymore,” he said. “After meeting with everyone, I feel it’s the time for a change at New Paltz. To brush off this incident and have the possibility of a Sodexo win by default is unfair and outrageous.”
Christian said choosing a food vendor is critical and a decision “must” be made in order to prevent a default decision.
“We want to do this in a consultative process and involve the CAS Board, but we have to come to a decision on a food service vendor,” Christian said. “As someone who is ultimately responsible for ensuring we provide food service for students, I can’t let the process lead to a default choice.”
The CAS board will meet again to choose a food service provider on Wednesday, April 10.