Union Market addresses student concerns

Travis Perry

We’ve all seen her wandering around Stauffer Commons during the busy lunch hour, and many have even had a conversation with her about the quality of the Union Market service and food, yet few know who she is.

Her name is Janelle Rutherford, and while it may seem odd to have someone come up to them and ask how their burger tastes, this is just another example of the ways the Union is trying to change their mistakes, listen to student and faculty concerns and to provide the best quality product to their customers.

“I’d like to think that we’re addressing [the problems] with the quality of the product, just being able to offer a consistent product with the menus that we have out there now. And from the service side we have a better idea of how to make the products and how to put them together, so you are hopefully going to get the same thing,” said Rutherford, the new food services director for Washburn’s Union Market.

The most obvious changes that have occurred since last semester are the five new menus at each food station, several new choices for side items and the set hours, all of which were a problem for many students in the past.

“I think [the changes] are fantastic,” said Pat Muenks, who organized and circulated a petition last semester regarding the quality of the union food and service. “The new menus and variety they offer is awesome, the prices have come down, and those are two of the primary concerns that students had.

“I’ve also seen them make attempts to do things that we also asked about. For instance, when we came back all the residents in the Living Learning Center had time listings of when the Union was open and closed. That was nice because one of our primary concerns was that unless you had been here for six months you didn’t know when the Union was open or closed, it was just common practice because the hours weren’t posted anywhere,” said Muenks.

Close to 150 students joined Muenks in his petition for a higher quality student union, and changes have obviously been made.

Once the issue was identified, former Food Services Director Jerry Colmstock started the changes in motion. Surveys for food types were given to students, and new menus were made accordingly.

“We’re just trying to have more standardization in general. We’re trying to work with the To-Go-Cooler, and putting a little more variety out there. Right now we’re working on putting in some Jell-O parfaits, as wells as some entrees,” said Rutherford.

The Union is currently working on organizing a student-faculty focus group to evaluate the different selections at places such as the grill, as well as other possible product offerings.

One of the biggest complaints among students is the fact that many have excess money left over on their meal plans at the end of the year. While there are currently no plans to allow students to use their meal plan money at such places as the Corner Store, Rutherford did want to point out one crucial option that many students with the large meal plan may not know.

“[Students with the large plan] have the first three weeks of the semester to change to the smaller meal plan. So if they had that problem in the fall they do need to go to the smaller meal plan, but they only have the first three weeks. The cut-off date looks like it will be February 4.”

While great strides have already been made, there will always be other things that can be changed and improved upon in the Union Market.

“Some more specific changes that I’m interested in looking into would continually be the rollover policy as to why we lose all of our money at the end of the semester. I’m sure that there are financial reasons for that, it’s just it would be nice if we could know why and students were informed about it,” said Muenks.

Another concern voiced by Muenks is that with the Union closing at 8 p.m., those students who attend evening classes are forced to eat earlier than most. He is pushing for the Union to extend their weekday hours until 8:30 p.m. for convenience to those students experiencing that type of situation.

Muenks praised the cooperation provided by university officials in listening to student concerns regarding union policies.

“Probably the biggest thing that I was surprised about with this was the willingness of the administration and staff to help, and I owe them a great deal of thanks. They have been very receptive, they’ve been very respectful, and they’ve treated us like adults with serious concerns. I appreciate that on every level, because when the faculty works with the students you get changes like this that occur and I think that it’s awesome that this university is willing to do that.”

Rutherford said she was willing to talk to those who still aren’t satisfied with some aspect of the Union. For those who would like to discuss their problems, or would like to be part of a focus group designed to decide new additions to the menu in the Union, Rutherford can be reached either at address [email protected], or by phone at (785) 670-1456.