The campus boutique hotel, next year’s tuition and fees, and the proposed Aramark deal that would provide funding to expand the Student Union were hot topics at the UCF Board of Trustees meeting Thursday afternoon at NorthView.
The Board voted unanimously to approve the agreement for the campus hotel, in which UCF will sublease a currently undeveloped piece of land at the northeast quadrant of Alafaya Trail and University Boulevard, by the front entrance to the main campus. The Board also voted that tuition for the 2016-17 academic year will not be raised.
Perhaps the most controversial topic of the day, a 10-year negotiated agreement with Aramark was approved. As part of this deal, UCF’s food services will be consolidated and Aramark will fully fund an expansion and renovation of the Student Union, estimated at $14 million.
“I think this is a really good program, good agreement, for the students as a whole,” said William Merck, UCF’s vice president for administration and chief financial officer. “The whole purpose of this whole particular proposal is for students.”
Of the 487 Aramark employees on campus, 310 are currently students. Merck said more jobs will be created under the new deal. He also mentioned that students “would play a driving role” in picking out the new vendors.
The food and vendor contracts that are currently in place in the Union will run to term. Most of these leases expire anytime between one and three years from now, said Merck. Vendors in Knights Plaza near the CFE Arena will not be included in the agreement.
However, many students showed up to protest this deal, wielding signs with phrases written on them, such as “Don’t let Wackadoo’s go dark! Say NO! to Aramark,” “SLAP down the monopoly” and “If Aramark has their way the SU will decay.”
Patrick Blanchette, a freshman biology major, feared that an approval of the Aramark deal would mean creating a monopoly on campus.
“[Monopolies] decrease diversity, which is something UCF stands for,” Blanchette said during the public commentary session. “This deal is not diverse.”
But other students felt differently, including RWC employee Naomi Eustache, who also spoke during the public commentary.
“I am for Aramark. I think, as a student, we would benefit from Aramark through the opportunities of a Student Union expansion,” Eustache said. “... Through Aramark, I believe there’s a more diverse variety of food vendors that would be on campus.”
Student Government Association President Cait Zona emphasized that there would still be a variety of food-service options, and the expansion would be beneficial due to the observation that the Union is already crowded and lacking ample seating.
Jacob Milich, an SGA senator and junior management major, said he was disappointed that the students were not given ample prior notice.
“[The deal] is incomplete. I represent the students and the students were not asked. That is my main concern,” Milich said. “There was no effort, and the small group of students [the Board of Trustees] brought in was not representative of the whole student body, and that was made clear by the students that spoke in favor of this proposal.
“They all worked for UCF, or in the Student Union, and they’re the only ones that were called in.”
Neena Dhanji, who works for Huey Magoo’s in the Union, called the approval of the Aramark deal “a horrible result,” adding that because of the deal, the university will lose small businesses and minority vendors.
“While they say it’s not monopolistic, it’s very much monopolistic," she said. “They will control every food vendor that moves into the university, they will control prices. Basically, Aramark is giving the university $14 million to shut up and let them do whatever they want to do, and the university has allowed it because they want their money.”
Dhanji went on to say that she thought the Board kept this proposal quiet because it knew vendors couldn’t respond in time.
“This is a very dirty political ploy, and the Board made sure they pushed it through,” she said. “Even though there was civil talk on the Board of tabling it and letting negotiations start, some Board members wouldn’t have it.”
Danielle Hendrix is a News Editor for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @ByDaniHendrix or email her at DanielleH@CentralFloridaFuture.com.
Eric Gutierrez is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter at @atticus_adrift or email him at EricG@CentralFloridaFuture.com.