ResEd’s Response to Suites Residents and Stanford Students

Note: For Miles Unterreiner’s response to this piece, click here.

We appreciate the passions expressed these past few days about the future of the Governor’s Corner Dining Societies (GCDS) that serve the 250 residents of the Suites. It is clear that students care deeply about the chefs in the Suites, and that even more of you are passionate about preserving student management and independence in operating the dining societies and elsewhere on campus. Having worked with student management for the better part of a decade, that is music to my ears.

While I spoke to some students yesterday afternoon, many of those in attendance were frustrated by my answers. Many were also thoughtful and reflective and stayed to speak with me about the realities of operating student management in a large, complex University system.

For those of you who weren’t there, I wanted to provide the facts of the matter and explain the dilemma of the University as it relates to the GCDS. And in full disclosure, I was a resident of the Suites and as chef Tony suggested yesterday, I enjoyed and benefited from the dining societies myself. I understand what students are seeking to preserve but given contemporary challenges we cannot simply say “it worked well for thirty years, leave us alone we don’t want to change it.”

I say this because the University is operating within many new realities, including an increasingly litigious society and increasing legislation, regulations and mandates. All the while, the service expectations of our students and parents are also increasing. And our responsibilities to maintain health and safety, and to assure financial accountability, remain.

In Residential Education we work very hard to support Stanford’s long-time tradition of providing students with management learning experiences and decision-making autonomy even when the model isn’t the most efficient or cost-effective. It is, however, more and more difficult for any entities to operate independently on campus without more university oversight and controls.

In the case of the Suites, the current student-management model operating the GCDS has faced difficulty. While more recently student leadership of the GCDS has worked hard to enact University recommendations stemming from an internal audit that took place three years ago, when we initially outlined our concerns we felt the refrain was overwhelmingly ‘just leave us alone, it works fine the way it is.’

Yesterday many students expressed frustration that it takes a protest or a petition to get the administration to listen or to prompt compromise, but it works the other way around too. As I said to Miles [Unterreiner] after the rally, we have worked with GCDS management for the last two years trying to address legitimate concerns outlined in that University audit, and when students come to the table with ‘leave us alone,’ it’s hard to make progress.

We have come a long way but it has not been easy. Many of you asked for the truth. The truth is the University is currently defending three lawsuits related to the dining societies. Additionally, as ResEd has worked to incorporate a structure that meets University expectations while preserving student management we also have had to lend funds to the GCDS in order for them to be solvent and make payroll.

Its student managers have been reticent to discuss real strategies to reduce costs and to ask beloved chefs difficult questions about their compensation packages, compensation that was set at time when the GCDS did not have to respond to the trend in litigiousness I reference above.

We understand that GCDS wants to pay their chefs well, but the current Suites food service model is expensive to operate – more expensive by $600-per-student-per-year than what students in most residences pay for board. Causing further concern is that the University has to provide a greater subsidy to Suites students who receive financial aid.

These are just some of the complications that ResEd and the Governor’s Corner Dining Society student managers have been working to try to overcome during the past two years. We haven’t found a workable long-term solution but, as I also told Miles [Unterreiner] yesterday, I think we might be closer than we both thought.

We would also like to state that of the various conspiracy theories circulating about the rationale for changes, none are true. Our dilemma is simply a matter of balancing students’ desire for independence with the University’s obligations to mitigate risk for all concerned and to be accountable for the money paid by families and through financial aid.

We do not believe we have been acting in error in our attempts to address the aforementioned issues, but you’re right – we need to be able to state clearly where the concerns are and provide examples not just to GCDS leadership but to Suites residents as well.

We want the most robust, rewarding and well-run system possible, and we welcome recommendations from the Suites residents about the best way to preserve as much of the independent model as possible, while meeting the modern-day requirements of our legal, structural and financial realities.

The current GCDS managers have not expressed confidence that it can be done in the short term. But there are student-management models on campus such as Stanford Student Enterprises (SSE), in which students make independent management decisions, but are also accountable to an advisory board of University staff and officials. Perhaps there are best practices from SSE that can be adopted for the Suites. Or maybe something completely new.

We want to be clear that we do want the Suites experience to be a successful and rewarding one. We are optimistic about the possibilities if students are willing to hear all sides of the argument and collaborate with us to address tough questions.

Moving forward, we look forward to working together to preserve as many learning opportunities and experiences for student management as possible, while still meeting our responsibilities to all students and abiding by the rules of a host of regulatory entities. And all while not exposing the University – or its student managers – to unnecessary risk.

Thank you for your ongoing interest and passion to be involved in finding a solution.

Nate Boswell ‘99 M.A. ‘09
Associate Dean, Residential Education

About Op Ed

  • Dexter

    Aren’t Suites dining costs basically the same as on the Row, which has more ResEd oversight? Also, the details of the three cases being litigated would be nice. Also, you took the time to write about how you should be more open with Suites residents about the problems you have and yet you only list lawsuits and cost (which I’m not sure is actually an issue) as issues. Also, wasn’t the whole “lending them money” thing debunked in the recent long article published in The Daily?

  • Dexter

    Man I sure do love the word also. It’s late, I’m sorry.

  • transparency matters

    Prove your transparency with making your financial reports public. If you are in the right, we can all look closely at that and no harm will be done to you, right?

  • transparency matters

    *by. grammer edit

  • S_gen

    Do you mind explaining why student run kitchens generally have less and less severe health violations than your dining facilities – and why we shouldn’t go with them?

  • AJ

    Where can students find the audit, or at least a summary of its findings, that you are citing as the basis for the changes to Suites dining and some other recent ResEd/University decisions?

    Also, given that many of the facts about the board bill and the GCDS budget asserted in your article and Miles’ article are contradictory, how are we expected to choose which to believe? My intuition is that in the absence of documentation or some other compelling reason to believe ResEd over Miles, you’re not going to end up with many students on your side of that debate.

  • honest much?

    this is horse shit. Nate Boswell is really good at saying nothing. You would think that competency should be a job requirement for University staff. Instead, us students find that most ResEd, and Housing administration is still in amateur hour, at least with respect to how they treat GCDS. Student managers are the reason that suites dining has not crumbled under the weight of superfluous ResEd oversight, ResEd imposed financial constrictions, and yes, this ignorantly reported litigation. So no, ResEd, you are not coming to the rescue. You are squeezing the life out of the most respectable student run organization on campus. Has anyone heard of SSE? Only in those emails that we delete before we open them (Ok that wasn’t fair, SSE does solid work for student interests, but is far from student autonomous).

    Let’s be honest with ourselves. “Leave us alone” is an unfair characterization of student frustration. I do believe that students can (and have) done better job without University oversight, but it is unfair to say that former and current managers have adopted this mantra in dealing with ResEd threats of takeover the last few years. Who is uncompromising?…The student managers that forego paychecks in order to maintain chef benefits while working throughout the summer and winter breaks on a acceptable proposals for the ResEd machine?…Or, the University administration whose strategy to save face by branding student management as irresponsible money launderers… no that wasn’t it… maybe it was health code violating scrubs…. or was it lawsuit attracting simpletons. What were we talking about? Oh yes, the “leave us alone” attitude that ResEd has attributed to the unconscionable compromises that suites managers have had to make in order to pay tenured chefs a living wage and maintain the little remaining solace of student autonomy left on this overly corporatized campus.

    I could go on but I have class. Classes that I have to do well in because my GPA suffered from exhaustive requirements of the student management position during finals week of a previous quarter. Requirements that involved said increasingly litigious society. Requirements that if I, or other managers were to disregard and focus on our finals, then ResEd would have even more litigious issues to blame on poor student management. Lawsuits are rarely an area where transparency is appropriate, so it was a shameless move to involve this aspect of GCDS in the University takeover. This isn’t Stanford’s first rodeo with the law. Although not much can be said about this issue, what can be said is this: the University’s fear of unnecessary “risk” is not isolated to suites management. This ResEd response was meant to deflect student frustration by debasing GCDS.

    Lastly, do not believe the toothless generalizations made by ResEd administrators. There are still many questions that lack concrete answers, such as, if ResEd is interested in a partnership with student management why did it refuse to accept a proposal from GCDS? And more comically, why is it that amidst student backlash are more ResEd and Housing administrators are personally checking in on suites’ student welfare, responding to management concerns within a timely manner, and answering emails with cheery exclamation marks? If you can’t sense my sarcasm, it is rarely the case that we see any University officials on this side of campus. So, citing student interest as a reason for suites takeover is… how did I say it… horse shit. You can come up with better justification, ResEd. We are not as incompetent as— wait I’ll just stop here.

  • Miles

    Hi, AJ. I’ll respond on this – specifically the points you raise in your second paragraph – tomorrow.

  • transparent=opaque

    Transparency! Sounds great! When do we start???? Haven’t seen a whole lot of this from anyone but students regarding the matter of suites…. ResEd could learn a thing or two from the students it is attempting to control.

  • Former Manager

    “…we also have had to lend funds to the GCDS in order for them to be solvent and make payroll.”

    Because ResEd wouldn’t let us GCDS allocate money in the ways they previously had. Each of the four eating clubs ended up with a massive positive cash flow at the end of the academic year, only to see that money disappear. The general fund (managed by GCDS) was not allocated a high enough percentage of funds going into the academic year. Overall, Suites was net positive for the 2011-2012 academic year.

  • Suites resident

    the lawsuit is from a former chef who believes everything is a conspiracy and is just trying to suck money out of the university. he was nice guy, but a total hack job in real life.

  • Guest

    ResEd and the rest of the Stanford Administration has exercised a pattern of overwhelming apathy towards the welfare of the students in Suites. Last year, a suicide was left virtually unaddressed by administration, and RAs were left largely to deal with the matter themselves. As someone who struggled with coming to terms with that tragedy – and still vividly remembers that week and believes she did poorly on a final because of the mismanagement by the university – this was inappropriate.

    Now they’ve decided to attack the one area where community is fostered in Suites – the chefs and the student management. I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to have Frank’s smiling face after hard nights, and he loved that my last name sounded vaguely like an Egyptian one. Steven, the former chef in Middle Earth, used to put aside dinners for me on nights I’d miss it, but he knew they were my favorite dishes. When my laptop had a run in with some water, all four chefs got together to brainstorm strategies to fix it, and ended up contributing a great deal of rice and a plastic bag to the cause.

    The cost of living in Suites was entirely appropriate. Increasing prices were forced from a “room” standpoint, rather from dining, and I got better food than my friends in row houses did.

    If ResEd and the Stanford administration cares about students, then it needs to be actively involved in students’ welfare. However, to manipulate students for your own financial gains or increased power, when there is little evidence shown to back your claims (Lawsuits? Really? At any given time, I’m certain Stanford has twenty lawsuits pending.), is disgusting behavior. I’m actually repulsed, and I hate the thought that students coming here in the future will have to deal with such a contentious and bullying administration.

  • Anonymous

    I lived in Suites, and I personally have to say that I didn’t find the food to be all that fantastic or the system all that well run. At the same time, the major reason that it’s so damn expensive is because we have 4 separate dining halls for a really small group of students. Unless that’s going to change, how on earth are costs going to go down substantially? Running 4 kitchens for 250 students is never going to be cost effective…

  • Miles

    Hi Anonymous,

    First of all, 95% of Suites residents (according to a recent survey) seem to disagree with you on the food quality point. It’s fine if you didn’t like the food – but it appears an overwhelming majority of people do. Second, it’s empirically barely more expensive to live in Suites than on the Row, which serves seven fewer meals per week. (The annual student board bill on the Row is $5,992, and in Suites it’s $5,999.) That seems quite “cost-effective.” Second, 250 students is not a “really small group of students.” It’s actually 260 (65 per club), which is the largest single individual account on campus (dining halls not included). Even by club, 65 students per kitchen is larger than every Row house.

    Your comment doesn’t seem to make much sense. I’m happy to hear where I’m wrong on this, if you’d like to correct me.

    Miles

  • IsThatS0?

    Each of the four clubs serves ~65 students, which is on par with the number of residents in a row house, each of which has its own chef…would you have the row serve the same meal to each house because they are in such close proximity to each other? At a certain point you have to stop acting like the university has been and look further than the price tag. Could it be cheaper yes. Should it be is another question entirely, and if so, the community and university must both come to terms with the fact that that reduction in cost will surely come with a reduction in quality. Removing hot breakfasts 5 days a week and student cooked meals on sundays would clearly lower costs, and put the number of meals and price on par with what the row offers if not below, but given the large number of residents who need to eat a hot breakfast (athletes coming back from practice, students wanting a solid meal to start their day) it seems like a foolish decision.

  • Spencer

    Are you serious? The first and last time I’ve ever had swordfish or lobster in my life was at Suites. The mixed fruit bowl at breakfast had all the best stuff, not your usual old cantaloupe and honeydew. There were blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and kiwi in there! Plus, with full access to the open kitchen there was no reason to be hungry ever! On the row my open kitchen ran out of food by Thursday and the door to the stoves was locked a lot. When I came back from practice sometimes I’d be starving and the food would be gone. They always had leftovers in the fridge at Suites. If they (GCDS) could keep running 4 kitchens for 250 students with equal efficiency to the row houses at 17 meals to 10 meals per week (discussed previously in the long form article by Mr. Unterreiner) then this takeover stands to negatively impact what I thought was an integral aspect of my college experience.

    P.S. In talking with non-Stanford friends about this controversy, they immediately said “this is the biggest problem you have on campus?! You spoiled kids try having tuition hikes without cushy financial aid packages.” That’s why I feel that this student run society is unique and the opportunities it presents (job experience in managerial positions/stress relief and community while scrubbing baked cheese and salmon grease) are part of the privilege of being able to attend such a university. Shouldn’t we protect the opportunities that make Stanford different from (in my opinion better than) other universities? You may now go back to eating your caviar omelette.

  • Bogus

    Nate Boswell’s response is vague in all of the wrong places. It’s also incredibly hypocritical. For someone who claims student passion and voices are “music to [his] ears,” it’s awfully perplexing why he didn’t solicit ANY non-manager student opinions from Suites residents before ResEd made their decision to contract Suites dining out to a private company. I could go on complaining about this but honestly, his diplomatic response was not really surprising.

    What did surprise me was how EMBARRASSINGLY UNAPOLOGETIC this response was. I didn’t see a single real apology in the whole thing. No “we were wrong” about A, B, or C. No “sorry for not consulting students earlier,” “sorry for not realizing how much students really cared about their chefs,” “sorry for the past little effort we put in to work something out with chefs before refusing to renew their contracts,” “sorry for the misinformation about safety violations and for Deborah Golder’s egregious comment suggesting ResEd is battling literal fires regularly breaking out at Suites,” “sorry for not fixing dining equipment or reimbursing students and chefs in a timely manner,” “sorry for the tough transition where bank accounts were wiped and student hashers weren’t paid,” or “sorry for keeping practically everyone out of the loop and trying to get away with it.” Okay, I wasn’t expecting the last one, but it would have been nice to receive at least SOME kind of apology and acknowledgement of how terrible ResEd had been in informing students, seeking student opinions, and involving students in decision-making.

    Instead, Boswell gave us the exact OPPOSITE of an apology. How can students expect to work cooperatively with a Stanford office that doesn’t admit to its own wrongdoings but instead turns around and BLAMES students for being unreceptive, accusing students if having ignorant “leave us alone” attitudes!? The answer is that we can’t. This is completely unacceptable behavior from administrators hired to improve student life; it’s completely disrespectful to us. I demand a real apology, but would be surprised to receive a sincere one considering ResEd’s actions thus far.

  • ’11

    Nate Boswell has clearly not talked to a current student since he graduated in 1999 since he keeps talking about “THE Suites.” Nobody says that.

  • Bogus

    Of having*
    Sorry, I’m a little blinded by fury.

  • Guest

    This arguement is pretty empty without the details of the lawsuits and the results on the internal audit of Suites Dining. What are the actualy problems?

    Also, the cost of Suites dining is comparable to the Row, so that is not a valid arguement.

  • JG

    SSE is no model for oversight. Any student group financial officer can offer countless instances of the daily ineptitude of that organization.

  • Sloppy Survey

    You mean, according to a recent survey *you* conducted *after* the decision was made. -> Survey conceived with bias. What about the 110 people who did not respond? -> Notable margin of error. How did you verify the responses all came from Suites residents? -> Questionable sampling. Here are two noteworthy quotes from the Google doc with the survey responses: “As someone that regularly eats in Suites”, which seemingly implies that at least one respondent is not a current resident, and “This is a push poll. Not helpful.” The decision to end student management of Suites was poorly executed, but the survey results can only be interpreted to be indicative of dissatisfaction with the decision to end student management, not satisfaction with the food quality.

  • Miles

    Fair points, I suppose. A few things: First, “margin of error” is not the phrase you’re looking for. Second, the vast majority of polls are conducted with a sampling size far smaller than, proportionally speaking, the poll I conducted about Suites. When Gallup wants to find out how the American people feel about the presidential race, it typically only surveys about 1,000 people – about .000003% of the U.S. population. Though interviewing more people would be more accurate, a representative sample can be obtained with far fewer answers. More than half of Suites residents answered this poll. I think any pollster would be more than satisfied with that.

    I’m happy that “someone who regularly eats in Suites” answered the poll, since it’s Suites Dining and its chefs, not Suites in general, with which the poll is concerned.

    As you point out, there were two negative comments, which are clearly viewable at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1uziM69iLok3yMENEX4kSXx42JGKLASRCbv0xuDdIf4s/edit?pli=1

    The other 60, as you can see, are quite positive about the current status of Suites Dining.

    As regards your point about the survey indicating dissatisfaction with the decision to end student management and the chefs’ contracts, I suppose that makes some slight sense. But students who don’t enjoy the food will likely not approve of the chefs who make it or the students who order it, so I think the results are likely to indicate a high approval rating of the food as well. I am more than happy to send another survey asking that specific question, and I am confident the response will be similar.

    And if you are still dissatisfied with the way the survey was conducted and don’t trust me to do it right, I would happily invite you to conduct one of your own. I am quite confident that your survey will produce very similar results.

    Thanks-

    -Miles

  • Anonymous

    I was a resident at suites last year and I had a very very bad experience with the dining managers and chef. Being vegetarian, I had a very hard time getting the nutrition I needed with often times no food being vegetarian at all. In spite of complaining numerous times to the manager throughout fall quarter, they never managed to provide me a complete meal, with practically no protein being present at all. I in fact fell quite sick near the end of the quarter and lost quite a bit of weight. After that experience I just asked resed to refund me the money and I found my own meals.

    The really unfortunate part though is that they still took a sizable amount for maintenance of the kitchen, but when I would be in the suites dining hall and not even having any of the food, or having something on the invitation of my roommates (who were still on the suites dining society plan) [we were allowed to have one friend a week] .. the student dining manager would ask me to leave or not have food.

    Anyways, that was just my experience. I know that most people have had a great experience at Suites with the dining(95%) and would like to stick with it. But I definitely think that Suites dining and its managers are not sensitive to the needs of vegetarians like myself. I had a very bad experience, and I suppose that the dining halls try to cater to the majority and people like myself are a small minority but since I pay the same amount I had hoped for a better experience

  • Guest

    This doesn’t change in outside management though – my friends who are vegetarian have similar experiences on the Row. I agree that this is bad, but this is a common problem when you’re trying to cook food for only 80 people and can’t afford multiple vegetarian options. I’m not sure outside management would fix the problem like you would hope it would.

  • Anonymous

    Outside management would make it one kitched for 240 students in suites making it “viable” to have vegetarian options.

    I think its funny though that it is “ok” to exclude people of a different religion/lifestyle from a house and not provide them an adequate nutrition but we cannot “afford” to have more vegetarian options, even though non vegetarians can eat vegetarian food.

    Also, the issue of student managers non being sensitive to the needs of students who are living there still holds. They should clearly let residents know before they come in that other dietary needs will not be accomodated

  • SS

    Hahaha… so essentially, this is a moral decline of society argument. “We can’t do anything, because over the last few years, America’s been experience torts fever.” Gimme a break. Half the things Boswell is saying here are flat out wrong. Read Miles’s (splendid) article for clarification. It’s actually quite disgusting how the University admins seems to increasingly resort to the same strategy the Republicans seemed to favour this past election cycle. Plug their ears, hum loudly, and spout a vicious mix of nonsense and lies so it devolves into a game of my word against yours.

  • D Pitty

    really? details? that’s interesting!