Editorial: Pitt’s new dining contract shows the importance of listening to students

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Pitt announced on Tuesday that it will not renew its contract with Sodexo.

Market Central as we know it might be changing. And for many students, this is good news. 

Pitt announced early yesterday, March 17, that it would not be renewing its contract with the dining service Sodexo, and would instead be working with Compass Group, a British multinational food service company, starting July 1. Pitt has been contracting with Sodexo for the past 29 years, with its most recent 10-year contract set to expire this year. 

The change came as a shock, though a good one, to many Pitt students, who have raised complaints about Sodexo over the years. Pitt deserves praise for this choice, having listened to student input and taking what was said seriously. The University should continue to do so.

Market Central was cited for 14 health violations in fall 2018, six of which were deemed “high risk.” Though many of these citations were issues of hygiene and food storage temperatures — and therefore weren’t directly Sodexo issues — the citations raised concerns about Sodexo’s food safety policies and the way the company enforces the policies. Through advisory groups and voicing concern, it seems that students played a major role in Pitt’s choice to not renew its Sodexo contract.

But even after Sodexo stated it would be addressing these concerns, Market Central continued to be cited. In April 2019, the dining hall received nine health code violations, and this past fall it received five. Pitt spokesperson Kevin Zwick said the health violations — along with factors such as menu diversity, sustainability, quality, innovation, value and service — were put into consideration when Pitt was deciding whether or not to renew the contract with Sodexo.

In the contracting process, a group consisting of three students, various staff members and Pitt administrators researched the companies who applied to Pitt’s dining contract proposal request. But the students within the group solicited opinions and input from other students about renewing the contract or changing to another dining contractor, Resident Student Association President Daniel Rudy, who was one of the three students in the original group, said.

It seems the new contract will put both Pitt students and current food employees in a good place. Zwick also said that current Pitt food employees contracted under Sodexo will be able to keep their jobs, and will be paid their current rate — or possibly a higher rate — under Compass Group. 

This is a solid step forward but it shouldn’t stop with the end of one dining contract and the start of another. Pitt should ensure it’s being transparent and maintaining communication with students as Compass Group takes on the responsibility of providing students with food. 

The University should be taking students’ opinions seriously in other areas, like the current transition to online classes due to COVID-19, and even other things, like divestment. Students deserve to have as much input as anyone else, since they’re the ones living on campus, reaping the consequences or the benefits of Pitt’s choices. The student advocacy worked for the dining contract, and now we can only hope this seeps into other areas, too.

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