Don Cumming, the Associate Vice President of Trent, told Arthur that information about fsStrategy’s work with other public post-secondary institutions is considered “proprietary commercial information” adding “the University has entered into an agreement not to reveal the consultant’s methodology to any other party.”
The consultant in question, fsStrategy, is a member of the Canadian Association of Foodservice Professionals (CAFP), an association counting Trent’s current food service provider, Aramark, as its “platinum sponsor”. After Arthur writer Brett Throop exposed the relationship, we contacted Dr. Kathryn Norlock to evaluate if there was indeed a conflict of interest. Dr. Norlock, the Chair in Ethics for the university, cautiously reserved judgment on the alleged conflict of interest but suggested “to know if fsStrategy comprise the right experts to turn to, you could ask if they have a track-record of successfully helping other universities make major changes to their food services, and it would be even more helpful to know if those other universities were happy with the results a year, two years later”.
According to one insider who requested not to be named, “it is public information because Trent is a public institution that has contracted private services, thus the right to privacy is relinquished in order to ensure public sector accountability”, adding “not releasing information raises serious questions about the transparency and accountability of Trent’s external business dealings”.
In a telephone interview with Arthur Jeff Dover of fsStrategy explained “for a foodservice master planning job like we are doing at Trent, basically we use reverse site selection, so if you consider McDonlands, McDonalds had a check list and if they are looking at a site they use this check list and determine a whole bunch of factors and if it gets a certain score then they think its going to be a successful site”.
Dover explained “what happens at a university is you’ve got a site where you’ve got a foodservice put in where it is not the primary business. The primary purpose of the university is, you know, education and research”.
When asked if fsStrategy will be taking part in the awarding the contract in addition to determining the scope of the request for proposals (RFP), Dover speculated “we might be involved in the RFP when it comes up; that is something we’ve done at a lot of universities. The recommendations are separate…its two separate things you are talking about—they’re not tied together but in a way they are tied together”.
Dover listed four other universities fsStrategy has consulted for, Ryerson, University of Toronto Scarborough, University of Regina, and Dalhousie. All four universities mentioned have contracts with Aramark and their students regularly give Aramark C’s and D’s across the board in the Globe and Mail Canadian University Report survey.
fsStrategy facilitated the renewal of Ryerson’s exclusive food service contract with Aramark and, according to the Eyeopener, a Ryerson student publication, “Aramark Canada made donations to Ryerson while under contract with the school”.
“Too much of the industry is thinking within the box”, argues Brea Hutchison, President-Elect of the TCSA. The TCSA has conducted its own consultation of over 600 students. “I fear we need to prepare for a closing of a cafeteria - this would undermine the concept of our colleges. No student I have spoken to supports this.” Says Hutchison who noted the data from the TCSA survey “is open to everyone to inspect”.
“I have no love for Aramark. Why would I have any love for terrible food? Why would I have any love for cheap calories, shoveled into undergraduates?” remarked IDS Chair Haroon Akram-Lodhi in October on the occasion of the David Morrison Lecture in International Development delivered by Raj Patel, a food sovereignty activist. The event was catered by Aramark.
Arthur followed up with Laura Story, Trent’s director of housing who investigated the conflict of interest compliant against fsStrategy and Aramark. Storey explained “any consultant we work with has to sign a conflict of interest statement saying there is no conflict of interest…in this case that was signed. When the complaint came forward I investigated it and asked our consultants ‘because you are part of CAFP and their platinum sponsor is Aramark is that a conflict of interest because are you getting financial gain personally from this?’”.
Storey explained further, “I didn’t ask them ‘is this a conflict of interest’ I asked them ‘are you receiving financial gain from a corporation related to this’ and the answer is no.”
Trent student Ian Cameron is skeptical of the process, arguing “the administration constantly tries to hide things from its customers, they pushed the private residence through during the summer which is when most students are not in Peterborough”. Trent alum Mike Facey speculated, “the administration, I don’t know what keeps them afloat they probably get a little kick-back”.
“Consulting is somewhat of a dark art” says Ray Dart, the incoming chair of Trent’s Business faculty, remarking, “the devil is in the details and we don’t know what the details are, we’re left to speculate.… It would be especially good as a community to all share confidence in our information gathering as much as possible.”
For information on Trent's sucessful alternative to multi-national foodservice, go to the website of the Seasoned Spoon, a student run restaurant.
An earlier version of this article was published by Arthur, Peterborough and Trent University's Independent Press