Tuesday, July 23, 2019

The Cave: Massive failings in administration-student dialogue



Recently, the issues of the closing of The Cave and the effects on Chartwells workers have been hot topics garnering campus-wide discussion. In an effort to get solid information about the actual situation and express my extreme discontent with the situation portrayed by the information that has been circulating, I emailed a number of the College’s administrators. Ultimately, I met with Trinity’s Vice President for Finance and Operations and Treasurer Paul Mutone and later spoke with SGA Vice President and President-elect Josh Frank ’16. These discussions illuminated a major problem with the dialogue between the student body and the administration over the current situation. This is an aspect of campus life that requires considerable attention if Trinity is to grow as an educational institution and a community.

In my meeting with Mr. Mutone, I learned that the Chartwells layoffs and closing of the Cave are actually two separate situations. The Cave is being replaced by another dining service to be erected in a new facility on Crescent Street (relatively like the Cave but with more dining options) which will also house the bookstore; the layoffs and cutbacks in hours which will lead to five or six workers losing healthcare and benefits and possibly two layoffs are due to the College trying to reduce the rate of tuition increases over the next few years, as costs are getting out of hand. The Cave is planned to close by the beginning of the 2015-2016 academic year, and Chartwells to shift operations both upstairs to a continuous-service Mather Hall and the soon-to-be-erected facility on Crescent Street.

Mutone explained that as a part of this initiative to reduce the College’s tuition increases, Chartwells had to manage no increase in operating costs, and Chartwells concluded that labor was what had to give. This “tightening of the belt” across campus also includes cutbacks being made by Aramark, which manages landscaping, and the hiring of fewer professors than are retiring.

No one disagrees that the costs of higher education are getting out of hand, however what was explained to me as a college-wide “tightening of the belt” by Mutone seems to be executed unfairly. He did explain that the administration had “targeted a reduction of $400,000 in administration budget reductions, still being determined” and “Comparative surveys… show Trinity to be on the low end of administrative staffing.” However, asking those who, by and large, are less fortunate than most people on this campus to tighten the belt (even if the College is tightening it as a whole) seems wrong, especially as we construct a new dining facility on Crescent Street. The dichotomy is troubling. It does not seem “civically responsible” nor “socially useful”—two of the values espoused in Trinity’s mission—and is certainly contrary to the values with which I grew up.

In my meeting with Mutone, I brought up the seeming lack of communication between the administration and the student body with respect to these massive changes to campus life. He explained to me that, while there had perhaps not been enough communication, there were two voting student representatives on the Planning and Budget Council (PBC), the forum at which many of these changes were initially proposed, who should have taken part in the dialogue between the administration and the student body. Moreover, he said, a group of students was gathered to meet with Toby Chenette (District Manager for Chartwells) and discuss the changes. Unfortunately, only one student ever showed up to this meeting. While perhaps not adequate, these were two avenues through which Mutone said student input was solicited and a dialogue should have occurred.

Josh Frank was one of the students who served on PBC (with current SGA President Ambar Paulino). After meeting with Mutone, I spoke with Frank about his role on PBC. He explained that these proposed changes (cuts to workers, closing of the Cave, and meal plan changes) were discussed at these meetings, but he had been given strict instructions by Mutone that he could not disseminate any of the information discussed to the student body—he was not to “leak” any of the proposed changes. Frank made it clear that he staunchly opposed these changes, and voiced what I think many students agree with: they would be extremely unpopular with the student body.

Frank explained further that the SGA was asked to assemble a group of students to meet with Chenette, but he and Paulino were under the impression that the proposed changes were not going to be brought up again, and Chenette had said this group was being assembled to see how students felt about Mather, not the controversial proposed changes to the campus dining services. He acknowledged that only one student attended, but that he and Paulino had been willing to assemble another committee. Frank emphasized that part of the reason he ran for SGA president was the feeling that sometimes “students aren’t really taken too seriously.”

Mutone simply responded that this account of events was, “Totally false and I would have other members of the committee talk to you about that.” Paulino did not respond to a request for comment.

Clearly, there is a massive rift in communication between the administration and the student body on this topic. Not only is this evident in the dearth of information which was available to students and the widespread lack of any cohesive communication about the extensive changes to campus dining, but also in the two extremely different accounts of how these changes were envisioned, enacted, and communicated to the student body. In such a situation devoid of information grows rumor, as it always has—the Greeks mythologized this phenomenon with the goddess Ossa (literally “Rumor”). As a student, this divide disheartens me: such a rift and lack of transparency strikes at the heart of the campus community. I dearly hope that, moving forward, there will be better lines of communication opened between the administration and the student body.

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