On July 1, 2010, as part of the University of Manitoba’s resource optimization project (ROSE), the management of Special Functions, the university department responsible room bookings and catering, was handed over to Aramark.
According Chris Rutkowski, a spokesperson for the university, the change was made in order to reduce costs and improve service.
In addition to the savings from the reduced costs, the university has also negotiated to receive 1.5 per cent from the sales made by Special Functions, under Aramark’s management, as a revenue stream. This arrangement is expected to provide the university with an additional $200,000-$210,000 annually.
Part of Special Functions’ new business model will involve growing the catering and conference business, including residence room rentals in the summer.
“We are optimistic that [ . . . ] a new focus on marketing summer conferences [ . . . ] will result in increased summer rental revenue for the residences , which always helps to support the residence operation,” said Rutkowski.
When asked about staff changes, Rutkowski said that while Aramark has agreed to take over all Special Functions salaries, the staff would continue to be university employees.
In terms of what changes students would experience, Rutkowski was doubtful that students would notice anything different in operations of the department.
UMSU President Heather Laube was less confident about the transition going unnoticed.
“There are a lot of changes when a for-profit company comes in and takes over a public service.”
One of her concerns centred on what the change in Special Functions, from a public to a for-profit company, could mean to the free access to university spaces currently enjoyed by student groups and student faculty councils.
Laube wants to ensure that that space is not being outsourced for the sole purpose of turning a profit, and that providing free rooms to students remained one of Special Functions’ mandates.
“I think it’s really important that they are putting students as a priority before profit.”
Laube also said that it is a concern any time a for-profit company takes over a university service, considering public and student money was used to create that service.
Aramark was contacted for comment, but as of press time had not responded.
Laube also expressed concern over how UMSU was notified about the change to Special Functions’ management.
“We pretty much found out via rumors at first,” said Laube.
According to Rutkowski, there was no public bidding process. This may explain why UMSU was not informed of the decision.
When asked about the process that led to Aramark taking over the management of Special Functions, Rutkowski said that because “Aramark is currently under contract to provide [university] food services,” that “their contract was modified to simply include the management of Special Functions.”
Laube encouraged anyone with questions or concerns related to this issue, or other issues dealing with university privatization, to come by the UMSU office.