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Moneta responds to outcry over Refectory contract

I’ve been reading with great concern the proliferation of misinformation concerning the alleged closure of the Refectory in the Divinity School. I thought it might be useful to share more accurate information with you.

First, what’s at stake is not the closure of the dining unit in the Divinity School, nor of any change to the principles that govern the kind of food we feature there. We remain committed to featuring a highly “green” operation offering locally-sourced food with menus of great appeal to the diverse array of diners who eat there. What is at stake, then, is who the operator will be, and whether the diverse menu will be affordable to all students.

There are two issues we are working through with the current operator, Laura Hall. They are the commission amount due to Duke and the relationship with the Divinity School.

First, for several years we have been quite public with our operators that we intend, when contracts are renewed, to move the commission percentage from an average of 10 percent to 15 percent, which is standard for the industry. Even at that level, Duke continues to subsidize private vendors because we think it is important to have a wide array of dining choices on campus. Indeed, all the new restaurants on campus have agreed to this commission. The owner of the Refectory is certainly aware of that obligation, and experience shows that our campus dining outlets have been able to operate successfully and profitably while still providing a high quality menu and a fair workplace for employees.

Second, it is important to remember that the Refectory resides in the Divinity School, which has shared with both Duke Dining and the owner longstanding concerns about the restaurant’s operation that conflict with student and faculty needs. We have made it clear that changes are necessary in order to continue what should be a mutually respectful relationship with Duke.

I’m saddened that the Refectory operators have chosen to wage a misinformation campaign that undermines the changes that are necessary, appropriate and transparent in order to sustain this important part of Duke Dining’s offerings. We have worked openly with students, through DUSDAC and DSG, to address very real concerns about fees, selection and quality across campus, but we think it is unfair to every member of the Duke community to provide a disproportionate subsidy to an eatery that is already at the upper end of cost, and unfortunately not affordable to many Duke students.

To be clear, we share a desire to retain the Refectory, and the community it has created at Duke, and are scheduled to meet with the operators on Friday to continue our good faith negotiations, and I hope and expect that we will be able to resolve our differences.

This is not about “closing the Refectory” as was incorrectly reported by The Chronicle. This is about who will operate the location, at what price, under what conditions and with what relationship with the Divinity School and the University. I will assure anyone who asks that the overall quality, menu and pricing that is currently enjoyed at the Refectory will continue.

Larry Moneta

Vice President for Student Affairs

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