On Friday, March 29, an Eastman student posted a photo of uncooked chicken served from the Eastman Dining Center on the Eastman Class of 2022 Facebook group. The post asked students to reach out to administration because this “has been happening for too long.”
A heated exchange ensued, between frustrated students and Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Robert Bones, that highlighted strained relations between Eastman students and administration. The post and its comments have since been deleted by the group administrators. A record of screenshots from the original post can be found here.
In his comments, Bones criticized students for using social media to air concerns he said had already been resolved.
“These photos are from a week ago. These problems have been addressed,” Bones wrote. “All you are doing is whipping up more hatred. Time to get the pitchforks and torches.”
When students raised complaints about the cost of meal plans, Bones shot back.
“I know you may think you’re an expert on what should be the cost of attending college and the costs associated with feeding people at a large institution, but I think it’s a little more complicated than you think,” he said. “Would you like to compare doctorates?”
Though students disapproved of the dialogue on both sides, they found the administrator’s behavior troubling.
“The students didn’t respond well, but administrators shouldn’t stoop to their level and argue back at them,” first-year Lael Dratfield said.
“What was really disturbing was that the response to every single student was to tear down the argument, saying no, it’s all in your head,” first-year Gerardo Garcia said. “That is so far from the truth.”
Bones did not respond to requests for comment.
Students maintained that undercooked food has been a common problem at the Eastman dining center. Sophomore Emma Antonides reported an incident of undercooked chicken to Dining Manager Joy Kimmel last year.
For Director of Dining Services Cam Schauf, the social media posts were an indicator that “we’re not doing our job on being responsive enough.”
The most recent incident happened March 21, after which the University sanitarian promptly launched an investigation, Schauf said. When asked if he had heard about prior cases of uncooked food, Schauf said he had not.
“We were not aware of those incidents. I can’t tell you they didn’t happen, but there was nothing that was brought to our attention,” he said.
According to Schauf, the issue had to do with an increase in new staff members who are still being trained. Since the incident, Schauf has increased the frequency with which staff are required to check food temperatures. Temperature records for the station from the day of the incident could not found, he said.
Schauf said the investigation and a meeting with students revealed more areas for improvement.
“In dealing with this problem, we’ve been made aware of some other concerns that Eastman students had,” he said.
These concerns include issues with dining hours, food quality, and dietary restrictions that students say they have previously raised to no avail.
“We come with concerns, and it seems like we keep getting shrugged off,” Garcia said.
Other students, like sophomore Tessa Nojaim, abandoned Eastman food altogether. “If I’m over there [at the River Campus] I’ll go to Hillside or one of the dining centers,” she said. “They have a lot of vegan and vegetarian options that aren’t available at Eastman.”
In response, Dining Services is planning a survey for Eastman students intended to include questions about the variety of food, portion sizes, and service level.
Schauf also emphasized the need for improved communication.
“The fact that I had not heard of any of [these concerns] is an issue for us,” he said. “We need to figure out how to make sure there aren’t these gaps between what our customers are feeling and what we think they are feeling.”