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V.P. of Operations Jim Gray speaks out on student dining concerns

Published: September 19, 2014
Section: News, Top Stories

Brandeis dining has undergone many alterations since last year, including a full revamp of Usdan (to include an all-you-can-eat venue) and changes in the meal system as a whole. Jim Gray, vice president of operations and the man in charge of both dining and the mailroom, sat down with The Hoot this past week to discuss these modifications—and admit that he too eats the same food the students consume.

Gray states he eats at least one meal a day at Brandeis dining venues. “If people see me there [eating], if people want to give me their thoughts, good and bad, please come and say ‘Hi, Jim’ and sit down,” Gray said. Unfortunately, Gray said, he usually ends up eating alone, although he welcomes student opinion. “The chance to set up close and personal feedback from students in the act of eating is a really helpful feedback mechanism,” he said.

Although he does not specifically have a background in dining services, Gray managed a $160 million budget at Harvard University prior to commencing his role at Brandeis University. With a career in commercial and university real estate, Gray stated, “I challenge myself with different sorts of responsibilities.”

With the mounting student discontent regarding the new dining changes and meal plan policies, Facebook groups have surfaced voicing frustrations. “I’m not entirely shocked to hear about this,” Gray revealed, stating there are “a lot of concerns about quality and quantity of food.”

“There’s nothing anyone can do [about the backup] because everyone just goes to the same spot to eat—there’s not enough places,” said Rachel Cohen ’16, a student who voiced complaints. “Everyone’s just going to the all-you-can-eat, and they’re not going to be able to leave. Usually people are coming in, people are coming out, and now it’s just people going in so it’s going to get really crowded.”

While in the past students have traditionally complained about the limitations of meal equivalencies, including the inability to use more than one meal within a given time period, now students are voicing frustrations over the lack of meal equivalencies (given the buffet-style dining of Lower Usdan and Sherman).

In response to complaints from the student body regarding this buffet-style dining, Sodexo instituted green to-go boxes, although the supply of these containers has dwindled.

In contrast to their upperclassman counterparts, who were familiar with the dining services provided prior to renovations, first-year students offer a new perspective. “In the end, I guess, I don’t have anything to compare it to,” said Amy Sheinhait ’18 “I think there’s a lot of awkward paths in Usdan that Sherman doesn’t have, but I do like the way [Usdan] looks—it looks nice.”

Gray refused to comment regarding the planned student protest against the dining services, stating he did not know enough about the protest to properly comment. He did however comment, “I intent to hold Sodexo responsible for providing quality and quantity consistent for what they promised to Brandeis.”

Gray reveals that he has been taking photographs of dining halls running out of food at various locations across campus, sending the images of empty serving trays to Sodexo. He believes this fault on behalf of the dining services is unacceptable, stating, “Quality is a statement of our commitment to our student body and others who eat in our community.”

Dining services, however, is not the only issue currently becoming the focus of student complaints and frustrations. In the wake of the transition from Canon to Xerox for the mailroom services, wait times and delayed package pickups have been the primary concerns of students.

Last week, the university responded to the inefficiency of the mailroom by delivering emergency packages inside residence halls, although no notice was given to students in advance. Noting the backlash administration received for entering student rooms without permission to deliver the packages, Gray comments, “I think we would have gotten a lot more hollering about stolen packages.” Gray stated this was a one-time event, due to special circumstances.

Gray acknowledged the frustrations with the mailroom during the start of the semester, but remains optimistic, stating, “I’m happy to say the situation of the mailroom, which was painful for all concerned, has largely stabilized.”

As Gray tackles the inefficiencies and vocalized student discontent regarding the new dining and mailroom services, he asserts, “I tend to insist they do better.”

Special to The Hoot writer Abby Patkin contributed to this article.