Widgets Magazine

The end of an era at Suites Dining, part IV

This is the fourth and final part of a long-form article on the University’s decision to end student management at the Suites Eating Clubs. Click here to view parts one, two, and three.

Growing burden of ResEd oversight

When I asked her about ResEd’s heightened oversight of GCDS since administrators first intervened in 2009, Dean Golder insisted that ResEd’s involvement has been productive and beneficial.

“We’ve done our best to help them be successful,” she declared. “And that’s just factually accurate.”

But according to everyone who isn’t a ResEd administrator, increased ResEd interference has been actively detrimental to the effective student management of Suites Dining. Not a single manager I interviewed could think of even one way in which increased ResEd oversight had made their job easier.

The number of ways managers say it has made their jobs harder, however, is remarkable. According to several different managers, all of whom wished to remain anonymous, ResEd meddling has made club management dramatically less efficient, more expensive and less effective.

One of the most frustrating changes for managers has been ResEd’s enforced separation of club expenditures into food – which student managers are allowed to purchase themselves using the GCDS account – and capital items like cups, plates and club improvements, which must be either approved and paid for by ResEd (using GCDS money) or purchased using personal student funds and submitted for reimbursement.

According to one student manager, the most significant problem with ResEd’s new policy – before which student managers were free to allocate funds as they saw fit – has been the delayed payment of vendors who provide both food and capital items. Student managers will pay for the food portion of the invoice immediately, but ResEd will take several weeks to pay for the capital items, leaving vendors complaining that they’ve been underpaid.

Reimbursement – the other ResEd-enforced way for student managers to purchase capital items – has proven even more inconvenient, mostly because ResEd appears to consistently run weeks behind schedule. One manager purchased a new stereo for his club in early December using personal funds and still hasn’t received a ResEd reimbursement check. In September, ResEd administrators forgot to pay Bollard’s water bill, and Frank had to pay the cost out of pocket. He finally got a reimbursement check for $248.73 – on Jan. 24.

In Middle Earth, student managers keep a running list of things R&DE – to whom, according to the board bill, Suites residents pay total annual maintenance fees of over $380,000 – has promised to fix but hasn’t. There are currently 12 items on that list, ranging from the salad bar to the stove tap to the mop rack.

When multiple fix-it requests went unanswered, managers had to resort to personal emails and phone calls. Many of the requests for maintenance have gone unanswered since fall quarter. As one current Suites manager I interviewed fumed, “Housing does absolutely nothing.”

Last year, R&DE installed a shiny new dishwasher in Middle Earth. Unlike the other three clubs’ dishwashers, which despite being old and timeworn work perfectly fine, the R&DE-installed Middle Earth dishwasher immediately broke, and Housing still hasn’t successfully fixed it. The symbolism is astonishing.

Student-managed since 1982, the Suites Dining Societies are set to be run by an outside corporation starting next year.

Student-managed since 1982, the Suites Dining Societies are set to be run by an outside corporation starting next year. (MEHMET INONU/The Stanford Daily)

In Fall 2010, ResEd decided to assume control of paying student hashers – traditionally a responsibility of individual club managers, who would write hashers checks directly from their eating club account. Before the takeover, I remember a student manager depositing my hashing check every two weeks, like clockwork, in the furthest left-hand drawer in the Avanti kitchen, beneath the cupboard.

When ResEd took over, they failed to pay student hashers for the next two months. Administrators only resumed payment after students pointed out that not paying your workers is a violation of California labor law.

“It’s amazing how incompetent the so-called ‘professionals’ can be,” grumbled a particularly displeased Suites manager.

ResEd has even taken GCDS money outright, without any warning or explanation. According to a 2011-12 club financial manager, each eating club used to maintain a $4,000 “carryover account” – money saved up “just in case a chef got sick or we had to have some big capital expenditure – as like a buffer.”

“We had that money saved up,” the financial manager said. “I sent out some checks at the end of the year to pay off summer bills and stuff like that… and then I ended up coming back to school and getting invoices saying I had unpaid bills from the summer, and I found out that the checks I had sent had bounced because the University had swept our accounts and taken out all the money that we had saved for carryover, and [they] just never gave it back. It was just gone.”

ResEd has also restricted the number of hashers who can be on GCDS’s payroll, drastically limiting the flexibility of students’ work schedules. Two club managers complained that finding replacement hashers when their current one has a midterm or an athletic event has become much more difficult since the pool of available hashers is now much smaller.

Even ResEd’s own student employees express frustration with the apparent incompetence and questionable work ethic of their superiors. One current Suites Resident Assistant (RA) complained that ResEd Student Affairs Officer Tiffany Taylor, who is supposed to make regular supervisory visits to Suites, has been conspicuously absent all year.

“She’s supposed to come over,” said the RA, “but she never actually does.”

If there is any mismanagement and incompetence going on at Suites, it’s not on the part of students. It’s by ResEd and R&DE.

It is only when I began investigating its chronic underperformance that ResEd finally began to grind, slowly, into gear. Two days after I sent an email to Boswell, Buzay and Golder requesting an interview about Suites, all four club managers suddenly got an unprecedentedly friendly, but characteristically vague, email from ResEd administrator Jo Jaffe ‘09.

“I just wanted to check in and see how everything was going for you all,” Jaffe wrote. “Please let me know if there’s anything you have questions on or need help with.”

Student managers weren’t fooled.

“It was definitely related to the takeover,” said one club manager.

And only in the last month has Keith Santiago, head of Governor’s Corner Housing, finally become more responsive to student requests for help.

“We are skeptical as to his motives,” said another student manager.


Frank keeps his letters in a Macy’s sale bag in the back of his old blue Lincoln. There are 66 of them. Most are thank-you cards: cards from students, cards from employers, Christmas cards from generations of Suites managers, cards in neatly written Spanish I wish I could understand. Some are invitations to long-ago Stanford graduations from former students who’ve left Frank’s beloved kitchen and moved on.

When Frank puts the tattered old Macy’s bag in my hands, he does so with a care I’ve never seen before. He tells me that if I open a card, I must make sure to put it back in the exact same envelope, undamaged and in order.

“Be very careful, Miles,” he says.

I smile. “I’ve got it, Frank.”

“No,” he says, with a fierce urgency. “These letters are the most important things to me.”

These letters really are the most important things to him. And so I take great care as I look slowly through the letters, kept as pristine as you could possibly keep 66 letters in an old Macy’s bag.

Certain phrases stand out from the flow of thanks from Frank’s former students.

“You’re like an uncle to me.”

“I’m so touched beyond words that you remembered my birthday.”

“To the man who is always right, who gives the best advice and who makes my stomach content.”

Frank never lets his letters go. Next year, this University won’t be able to say the same about Frank.


“Residential Education,” states the office’s website, “is about the people it serves… We are concerned with the experience of indvidual [sic] residents and how to best serve each of them.”

As I speak with Suites resident after Suites resident, I can’t help but think that ResEd has forgotten that central mission. Almost unanimously, the residents I talk to are shocked and appalled to discover that their four chefs’ contracts are not being renewed – a decision about which students were not consulted – and that students will no longer lead Suites’ dining clubs next year.

“It makes me really mad,” says one current resident, with simple honesty.

For others, the loss of a student job at Suites threatens to produce financial hardship.

“Without hashing,” says a student in Suites who is currently on financial aid, “I would have no income at all… I’d be getting deeper and deeper into the hole with my student loans.” (Boswell, Buzay and Golder say that some kind of student management will be allowed under the new contractor – but any student managers that remain will work for the new company, not a student-run nonprofit, and there will be, according to current student managers, no paid student hashing next year.)

I’m reminded that 95.97 percent of Suites residents opposed a change about which they were never consulted and only recently informed.

When I reach out to Suites alumni, the reaction is, if anything, even more pained. They’re dismayed to learn that the place they loved has changed so much.

“I always thought it was the greatest food on the planet,” a 2005-07 resident remembers wistfully.

“The quality of the food, and the cheapness of it, was better than anything the University was able to offer,” a student who lived and worked in Suites from 2006-08, before ResEd began its expensive and debilitating takeover, recalls.

I’m also reminded about the importance of community, and how that word means much more than simply a group of students. Our community is made up of everyone who makes Stanford so quintessentially Stanford – from President Hennessy down to the last kitchen worker, from star athletic coaches and tenured professors to the four chefs who, as one saddened survey respondent put it, “make Suites what it is.”

When I ask Golder whether she considers it important to bring Caroline, Dennis, Frank and Tony back next year, she says, “If it works out, I think that’s great.” She suggests that if students wanted to help, we should write a letter of recommendation for the chefs to the new corporate contractor.

Between Boswell, Buzay and Golder, no one offers to do anything at all to help the chefs keep their jobs.

“I can’t tell a vendor who they have to hire,” Golder says.

And that was it.

That’s not the spirit of the Stanford I know. The Stanford I know doesn’t corporatize student life at the expense of longstanding community members; it encourages and fosters student leadership, student initiative and student independence. The Stanford I know is about standing up for the little guy, being accountable and doing the best we can for every member of our community.

As I reflect on the end of an era, I’m deeply disturbed by something I remember from the beginning of my interview in that ResEd boardroom.

“My general directive from the president, provost and [Vice-Provost for Student Affairs] Greg Boardman when I was brought in four years ago was: ‘Clean up,’” Golder declared.

Suites Dining, she said, was just “one of hundreds” of places under ResEd consideration – “one of hundreds” of places “where we’re looking at ourselves and saying, ‘Are we doing the best we can by students? Are we doing the best we can by Stanford?’”

If firing four loyal community members beloved by their students; outsourcing student jobs and responsibility to a for-profit corporation with a suspicious workers’ rights record and dubious ties to the Stanford office responsible for its current contract; and refusing to solicit any student opinion before making crucial decisions about student welfare is what “doing the best we can by students” looks like – and if there truly are hundreds of places left on ResEd’s ominous list – then the end of Suites Dining might be merely the beginning of a new and darker era in our collective campus life.

If ResEd gets its way at Suites, it will be a victory for bureaucracy, for incompetence and probably for the coffers of SOS, with its hundreds of thousands of dollars in administrative fees. But it will be a tremendous loss for everyone else: for students, for four veteran chefs who will be forced out of the community they love and for this great university we all call home.

It can be hard to stand up for ourselves. We’re all students; we hold down jobs; we’re athletes and scientists and writers with tremendous time commitments on our hands.

ResEd knows that, and they take full advantage of it. As Sullivan, the former GCDS CEO who spent an entire exhausting year trying to hold off the ResEd juggernaut, puts it, “It’s an entire office of Stanford University against a few students who don’t have the time or the energy to fight.”

ResEd and SOS move quietly, inexorably and patiently towards a shared goal that is ultimately detrimental and destructive to the Stanford community.

We cannot – we must not – let them go unchallenged. It’s time to take a stand.

Miles Unterreiner ’12 M.A. ’13 was a two-year Suites resident and is currently employed as a hasher in Suites’ dining clubs.

Contact Miles at milesu1@stanford.edu.

  • C

    Having eaten at the Suites eating clubs, it was easy for me to see that they should be the dining model for all residences on campus. MUCH higher quality food, without a higher bill. At least in Beefeaters, you wouldn’t be surprised to see salmon one week, followed by steak the next, and lobster the week after that, all cooked to perfection. Can’t say any of the dining halls produced anything like that.

    And instead of asking “How do they do it? How can we get all of our other dining operations to achieve that level of food quality and efficiency?” the administrators make a decision so inexplicable that it’s clear they do not know nor do they care about what the students think in this situation.

    I’m not saying this was their goal, but as a result of this change, students in the future will never know the quality of food you can achieve with the same board bill. What a shame indeed.

  • Current Student

    Here’s one thing anyone can actually do: Talk to your parents about this.

    A huge percentage of students are sons/daughters of alums. Tell them whats going on. Tell them how we are not consulted and treated like children. Tell them to contact influential alumni, any contacts they may have on the board of trustees, which oversees everyone. . I talked to my dad, an active alumnus, following Billy Gallagher’s parting op-ed piece, and I know for a fact that the president of the board of trustees, Steve Denning, read that piece and discussed it with Hennessy as a result. Now, that does not mean change will occur. But making alums aware of this shameful development will do a lot more to push back against negative change than simply demonstrating student discontent. Alums have money… we don’t. The last thing the University wants to put in jeopardy is its financial future. It’s unfortunate but I think it’s the truth

  • anonymous

    The two most effective ways to get through to the administration:

    -hunger strike

    -tell all new admits, including freshman and graduate admits, exactly what you think of the university

  • cardinallakie

    During ProFro Weekend, hand a printout of this article to every ProFro.

  • James

    So who is in favor of a march and peaceful sit-in on ResEd next week? Let’s turn our words into action and show ResEd that we are angry enough to step away from our keyboards and take a stand.

  • Snoopy

    Stanford’s $4.4 billion annual budget includes 54% for salaries and 31% for operating costs…
    After this article, I think I’m beginning to see three places where we could cut costs…

    Now begs the question: Can administrators hand themselves pink slips?

  • Alum 2010

    I agree, and with special enthusiasm re: Sargent. I worked with Sargent when I was a manager at one of the Co-Ops, and not only was he a slimy prick, but he is the reason I left Stanford with a terrible taste in my mouth. My entire house was unhappy with our Kitchen Managers, who—time and time again, failed to purchase food for our kitchen—and when I went to discuss the issue with Sargent, he told me that I should either resolve the issue myself or quit my job. I left the meeting in tears. Even now, I strongly think he should be fired, and that Stanford would be a much better place without him.

  • SOS Chef

    wow that’s the most biased article I have ever read, well maybe that and NYTimes recent Tesla article

  • Luke

    Begin a “Stanford Free Living Society” (SFLS) ::: organize a campus-wide Spring boycott of all R&DE and ResEd, fees, services and activities. (1st) Begin a group of any number of students/friends (2nd) collectively file for termination of housing (3rd) decide how you’re going to make it through the quarter!!! …pitch tents, organize group cooks, find an old RV and park it on Palm Drive. The options are endless.

    You have until March 9th to file for termination of housing before the fee increases:

  • murkin

    research walks, bias talks… this, thankfully has both, and is all the better because of it.

  • Laura

    Definitely worth a shot, but be persistent and willing to wait. Greg Boardman (Vice Provost for Student Affairs, which oversees ResEd) refused to come out of his office while over 70 students waited outside, requesting an open dialogue about the XOX takeover.

  • OldFart

    Sit in at the Res-Ed offices. They can ignore emails, but inconvenience is another thing.

  • Woof

    You can begin by terminating your Housing contract with R&DE for Spring Quarter and making other living plans with your friends… from pitching a tent on the quad to renting a room off campus. Some of the Co-ops and posibly the dead houses might take on overflow residents and eating associates, but overall its up to you to be creative and seek out alternatives to the R&DE Housing and Food monopoly on Stanford campus.

    Terminate your housing contract before March 9th and avoid a fee increase:

  • bow wow

    You say because you’re an undergrad you cannot boycott ResEd.
    However, here’s how you and your fellow students and friends can:

    First, begin by terminating your (as far as I can tell, non-binding) Housing contract with R&DE for
    Spring Quarter and start making other living plans with your friends… You could become a squatter in a foreclosed home, you could rent a room off-campus from an eccentric silicon valley techie who travels most of the time, you could find an RV on craigslist, or approach some Co-ops and dead houses to see if they’d let you become an EA (eating associate) or overflow resident. Overall though, its up to you to be creative and seek out alternatives to the R&DE Housing and Food monopoly on Stanford campus. This could very well be the most memorable spring quarter of your time at Stanford – organizing a boycott with dozens, hundreds, maybe thousands of fellow students who have a mass exodus from the bubble! best of luck

    Terminate your housing contract before March 9th and avoid a fee increase:

  • roof

    terminate your housing contract and, with friends, seek out alternatives for room and board. Boycott the R&DE monopoly on student life!


  • Nicole

    you can sign a petition to keep Suites Dining student-run & preserve current Suites chefs, through ASSU here: http://senate.stanford.edu/main/petitions/view.php?id=37

  • Adam

    Anyone want to put some letters in Hennessy’s mailbox?

  • Elon Musk

    You can’t fool us Zac Sargeant!

  • Leonardo Daniel Leal

    We cannot let greed take over hour student independence. if we let things like this happen, THEY will start to impose more and more restrictions on us. Call, email and appear in person. talk to your parents, alumns anything helps