EMU attempts to cut costs by focusing on the little things and ignoring the obvious problems (you know, like football)

Everyone at EMU received an email from interim president Don Loppnow with the subject line “Campus message: Dining services,” but what I really think this message is about is the title I have for this post. In the nutshell, one of the “budgeting by a thousand tiny cuts” measures the EMU administration has decided to take is to outsource dining services. The talk of this has been going on for quite a while now, so this is hardly a surprise.

I have to say I’m confused by the potential benefits of all this. Loppnow’s email claims that everyone that EMU now employs in dining services will remain an EMU employee in dining services with the same contracts and what-not. Plus an outside vendor will bring in all kinds of new food options– food trucks!– and do all sorts of renovations to dining halls and all of that. Well, where’s the cost savings then? It sounds more like an act of creative bookkeeping combined with a willingness on EMU’s part to give whatever outside vendor the profits from their food truck et al enterprises.

I guess what I’m saying is I don’t completely disagree with the administration’s move to outsource this stuff and there are a lot of other institutions like EMU that already do this– though Michigan prisons outsourced their food options too, and that’s worked out not so great. EMU claims an outside vendor will invest “millions” in upgrades over the course of the contract, however long that might be. But again, this move doesn’t seem like much of a budget cut in the sense of actually “saving” money; in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyplace where the administration has given an actual dollar figure on how much money EMU saves in this move.

Anyway, here’s the passage of the email (I include all of it below) that I initially skimmed past that made me spit up my coffee when I read it again this morning:

It is important to note that Eastern’s overarching institutional priority is to provide our students with a solid educational and research experience – one that will lead to successful careers upon graduation. While our current food services operation and employees do an excellent job, food services is simply not the University’s core mission. Educating students is.



Hmm, I wonder what other things EMU spends too much money on that is clearly not a part of our institution’s mission to provide students with a solid educational and research experience? Who else is doing an “excellent job” but is doing work that is simply not a part of our core mission?


Look, if EMU wants to outsource dining services because they think we’ll get better food for slightly less cost for us (and obviously a big profit for whatever vendor wins the contract) and if everyone actually does keep their jobs, then I have to say I’m ambivalent. The EMU-AAUP’s argument has been that dining services people will end up losing their jobs and/or not be in a bargaining unit anymore and it will result in lower quality food, the administration’s argument is the opposite. Both of these arguments are predictions.

However, a) there is absolutely no way that the overall budget savings from this plan are going to make a difference in dealing with out of control spending from sports, and b) while dining services might not be a part of the “University’s core mission,” it’s a hell of a lot closer to that mission than football.

Here’s all of Loppnow’s email:

To the Eastern Michigan University campus community:


As has been communicated in previous updates, the University has initiated a process to analyze responses to an RFP soliciting vendors to manage University Dining Services. As that process has progressed, it is clear that there are significant benefits for the University to pursue such an arrangement.


The primary reasons for this are the substantial financial incentives and capital investments that the vendor will make. Although there is a need to expand and upgrade the dining facilities, the competing needs for University funding for core academic and student facilities are a much higher priority. Consequently, funding from an outside vendor makes it possible to expand and upgrade dining facilities while maintaining high quality food offerings and services. In addition to the significant capital investments that the vendor will make, which total in the millions of dollars over the life of the arrangement, there are other financial incentives that will benefit the University as well.


It is important to note that Eastern’s overarching institutional priority is to provide our students with a solid educational and research experience – one that will lead to successful careers upon graduation. While our current food services operation and employees do an excellent job, food services is simply not the University’s core mission. Educating students is.


This process will allow us to continue to focus even more directly on our primary mission, while turning over food services to an organization that provides high quality services at many colleges and universities and local school districts across the country. This is where they excel.


It is safe to say that this partnership will result in a true transformation of campus-wide dining and dining services that will be appealing to current and prospective students, and to our employees.


As I stated earlier, the proposal provides for significant capital investment in our dining facilities, providing a framework for extensive renovation, remodeling, the introduction of exciting new food vendors and the development of new dining spaces in additional buildings on campus.

It also positively addresses costs of dining and food delivery, and the importance of cost restraint, in addition to maintaining high quality meals and dining experiences for our students and employees.

Included in the plan are significant initiatives regarding the participation of the campus community in terms of providing suggestions and ideas about food options and services, improved use of technology, greater involvement with our surrounding community, commitments to sustainable practices and local sourcing of food. Food trucks and a campus farmers market are among the initiatives that will likely be part of the plan.


A significant element of the planning process included a survey of students in April 2016, which provided much information about the wishes of students. Their suggestions included more food variety, new food providers, improvements of existing facilities, the addition of new dining facilities in new locations, expansion of dining service hours, and opportunities for students to provide direct feedback.

All of these items will be addressed in the arrangement, including a mobile app for students and for our employees, in which immediate feedback can be provided about food services, requests can be made for new products or services and online ordering.


Details of the potential agreement are being gradually worked out and, since there have been many rumors and misunderstandings, it is important to share several aspects of the agreement we are considering.


First and foremost, we value our dining employees and are grateful for the outstanding services they provide for our students and the entire campus community and thank them for their ongoing hard work on behalf of the University.  The contract that the University administration plans to recommend to the Board of Regents regarding dining services will provide that all current EMU dining employees will remain EMU employees, with salaries and benefits in accordance with current applicable collective bargaining agreements. The vendor has no role in determining the length of time or duration of employment for current EMU employees. If the contract with the vendor expires or is terminated, the EMU employees will remain as EMU employees. Once again, we value our dining employees and want them to continue providing the high quality services they currently do on behalf of our University.


The success of dining services has been enhanced due to hundreds of undergraduate and graduate student employees. The agreement we are pursuing will ensure that the vendor will employ EMU students for an equal or greater number of hours annually as exists in our current dining operations.


As was indicated previously, we are not breaking new ground in this effort. Many universities in Michigan have moved to outside partners that specialize in dining services in order to provide the best value and highest quality dining options for their employees and students. These include:

  • Central Michigan University
  • Oakland University
  • Wayne State University
  • Grand Valley State University, among others

In addition, a recent national review found that 74 percent of universities nationwide utilize a third-party to provide food services.


Although we began this process with many questions and unknowns, our thorough analysis, including surveying students and the vendor’s proposal and responsiveness to our requirements, have resulted in our leadership team believing this arrangement will be good for our students, employees and the broader campus community.


If the Board of Regents approves the recommendation at its June 21 meeting, we will have further updates in the weeks ahead. Thank you for your commitment to our University.


Don Loppnow, Ph.D.

Donald M. Loppnow Ph.D.
Interim President
Eastern Michigan University
202 Welch Hall
Ypsilanti, MI 48197

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