in Houston, Texas
In hushed tones, A&M grapples with proposed privatization of food services
Monday, Jun 11, 2012, 12:28PM CST
By Mark Lisheron
cafeteria

Chastened last year by an unseemly questioning of the value of its ivory tower, Texas A&M University officials have reverted to education reforms in the traditional manner.

By contraction and secrecy.

Word has for a couple of weeks been dribbling out of College Station that a private company is promising the university could make $125 million over 10 years if it turned over all of its dining services on campus to the company.

Which would be a considerable improvement over the $1 million the university’s dining services has been losing every year, John Sharp, chancellor of the Texas A&M University System, told Texas Tribune this spring.

At least some of the dining services committee members considering the offer have warmed to the idea, the Bryan-College Station Eagle is reporting.

Which company is making the offer and how it plans to revolutionize Aggie mealtime is apparently too much for the public to process at this time. An anonymous source was generous enough to provide some reporters with the general picture of this one particular company.

Whether the two other private companies the university says are also bidding for the contract can match it, no one has so far anonymously leaked.

Encouraged by the source’s effectiveness, committee members, too, concluded they might speak more freely if their names weren’t attached to their comments.

One supposedly skeptical committee member told the Eagle the company converted him with an amazing insight into the free market.

“The projections, when I first saw them blew me off because I thought, ‘How on Earth can they make that kind of money?’ he clandestinely told the Eagle. “Then it became clear. This is a business they mean to grow.”

Whether or not that insight comes as a surprise to the professors of economics on campus was also not disclosed. But it was up to Rex Janne, chairman of the committee, to disabuse the public of the notion that the $125 million figure or any of the other leaked information came from the committee.

Little wonder the university is reacting as if dining services reform were tectonic. A report challenging the productivity of the most tenured professors at A&M and the University of Texas, made very public more than a year ago, very nearly rended the entire university system.

The bitterly debated report gained academic and political currency. Its author, Rick O’Donnell, said university officials reacted predictably to his inquiries, withholding, evading and obfuscating.

The University of Texas System, which had hired O’Donnell as a special advisor, reacted even more predictably, letting O’Donnell go after less than two months.

Sharp told the Tribune reformers had gone about it all wrong, by striking at the very heart of higher education, its teachers and researchers.

Better to stick to something like dining services and this time do it in private.

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo of a cafeteria serving line by flickr user cubby_t_bear, used via a Creative Commons license.

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