DSU president cold to Dal's food contract proposal

Chris Saulnier says student union shouldn't give up 'sovereignty over food'

Chris Saulnier, DSU president, at the town hall meeting on Wednesday. (Photo: Geoff Bird)

The president of the Dalhousie Student Union said he doesn't think the student body should agree to a new food services deal that would eliminate the student union's power to decide what food is sold in the Student Union Building.

Chris Saulnier, DSU president, detailed the university's proposal to merge its own food contract with the DSU's for the first time in a town hall meeting Wednesday. Both contracts are set to expire this year.

The DSU gets considerable income from their current contract with Sodexo and has some control over what food it can sell, including minimums for locally sourced foods.

The university first approached the DSU in the summer, suggesting they create a joint food services contract. Dalhousie has plans to close the old Risley Hall cafeteria and build a 300-bed residence at the corner of LeMarchant and University streets.

The university needs a new cafeteria to feed about 800 students living in residence. It sees the SUB as the prime location.

As an incentive to get the DSU to sign on, the university offered to double any investment the DSU could make to upgrade and expand the SUB. Saulnier said there is $9 million available to renovate the building.

Plans for the new SUB would include kiosks for societies and vendors, more study space and a remodeled pub.

Saulnier gave his opinion on the proposal, saying he didn't think the university had offered the DSU enough incentives to give up its "sovereignty over food."

The DSU makes about $125,000 per year from its contract with Sodexo, a substantial chunk of its $2 million per year revenue. Saulnier said food is one of the best avenues the DSU has to connect with students.

Saulnier said the university's core business is education. He said the university isn't interested in providing food. He said the DSU exists to "enrich the university experience" for students.

Heather Sutherland, executive director of student services, was unavailable for comment with Unews about the contract's details.

Some students at the town hall meeting let out sighs of relief when Saulnier announced his stance on the university's proposal. Jacob Lekas, a Dalhousie student, said he agreed with Saulnier's take. He said the Dalhousie administration's offer shows "the university will always try to go into any contract it wants," without consideration to students.

The Dalhousie Gazette published a story on Friday in advance of Wednesday's meeting that generated heated comments from DSU alumni on the food contract.

Philip Duguay, a student executive from 2005-06, refused to be quoted when contacted by Unews, but in his response to the Gazette article he slammed the student union for considering a joint contract. He said students "would never want to enter into such a relationship with the university."

Another former student executive posted a response anonymously, saying the negotiations "demonstrate what a thoroughly good job the university has done of turning the DSU into a neutered organization."

The tension might have been because of a lack of communication. "I've kept council well informed, but it might not have trickled down as well as I'd hope," Saulnier said of his efforts to communicate information on the contract negotiations.

The DSU is set to vote on the deal next Wednesday. If it chooses to remain autonomous, Saulnier says the DSU will begin seeking student input on the future of food services in the SUB.


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