UConn Dining Jumps on the Food Truck Bandwagon

The University of Connecticut’s Dining Services are taking on a long-awaited project that is anticipated to create quite a stir on campus – university food trucks.

Dining Services Executive Director Dennis Pierce said the idea has been in discussion for the past three years, and everything is finally in order to move forward with the process.

University-run food trucks have been popping up at college campuses across the nation, according to thelance.net.

“We’re probably one of the last major schools without a vending truck,” Pierce said.

Two food trucks will be introduced, employed with student labor; the first one serving just ice cream, as an extension of the Blue Cow shop located in the Student Union. All ice cream served will be products of UConn’s own Dairy Bar. Pierce anticipates the truck to have different routes for day and night, depending on the season.

“The ice cream truck was specifically an idea that came from President Herbst,” Pierce said.

The location of The Dairy Bar is also a long hike for many students, so Pierce hopes the ice cream truck will make up for the limited access.

The second truck will just serve meals, and the menu is sure to be anything but ordinary.

“A food truck is literally a kitchen on wheels,” Pierce said. “It will first start off as a taco truck, but not Mexican food…more like off-the-wall tacos.”

Dining staff recently sat down to taste test about 14 different kinds of tacos, with a variety of meat, vegetable, vegetarian and gluten free options, Pierce said.

Many of the menu options will change with popularity and with the time of year. Dining Services plans to utilize UConn’s Spring Valley Student Farm in order to incorporate locally grown in-season produce in the recipes. There’s even talk of “meals in a field,” a spinoff of Dining Services annual Pop-Up Dinners, where the trucks would park in the field and set up tables for students.

A couple of different ideas are going around about where the food truck will make regular stops. Dining Services is looking at different schedules, as well as a possible permanent lunch location on Fairfield Way, but that would include some type of construction, Pierce said.

“The questions that cannot be answered right now are ‘where’ and ‘when.’ But I see both trucks having multi-schedules,” Pierce said.

There’s no telling where the best location and when the best time will be as far as scheduling the trucks, so that part will take a bit of experimentation. Dining Services plans to use various social media to promote the schedules, and will decide upon the best scheduling option based on popularity.

Pierce said he anticipates that the trucks will be in high demand, and expects a positive turnout. Dining Services is also planning to book the trucks for events around campus, possibly including events such as Family Weekend and Spring Weekend. As far as off campus events go, though, Dining Services is making UConn’s students and staff its main priority.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we were asked to do off campus,” Pierce said. “But first and foremost we want to serve the university community.”

Both trucks should be up and running by the time the upcoming school year begins. The trucks are currently being wired with wireless transaction systems, so that they are able to take credit and debit cards. Neither truck will take UConn meal plan points.

While Pierce said he understands the inconvenience of not being able to use points, the value of one point is not equal to the value of one dollar. After reviewing the expenses, Dining Services just wouldn’t be able to pay the trucks back on points.

“I know it’s not going to go over well, but this is a business,” Pierce said.

If the trucks go over well and it becomes financially feasible, Pierce said the university would consider introducing more food trucks, though he noted that he wanted to be careful in competing with different eating options around campus.

“We’re really excited about it; it’s definitely going to be a learning experience for us,” Pierce said.


2015-2016 UConn Reads Theme Announced: Race in America

For the 2015-2016 academic year the UConn Reads Steering Committee selected “Race in America.”

The decision to choose a race related topic is especially interesting following race related incidents on the UConn Storrs campus during the 2014-2015 academic year.

Two highly publicized incidents at UConn’s now infamous “Spirit Rock” sparked a dialogue about racism on campus last year. The first occurred last fall, when members of Pi Kappa Alpha (Pike) were accused of racism and harassment by the cultural sorority Alpha Kappa Kappa (AKK).

UConn President Susan Herbst responded in a letter to the Storrs community, “These events did not reflect the community we strive to be — one that is welcoming, civil, inclusive, and that celebrates the great achievements that can be realized through our diversity”.

Five months later, students painted over the black and white rock that read “Black Lives Matter,” leaving only, “Lives Matter.”

UConn student Julian Rose called the incident “an outrage,” in his April interview with the Hartford Courant.

“There are people that actively deny there’s an issue, there are people that simply don’t care and there are the people that realize there’s a problem and want to change it,” Rose said.

In a December letter, Vice President of Student affairs Michael Gilbert said he believes “it is important for our campus to seize upon the opportunity to engage in a thoughtful and honest dialogue on the significance of the issues presented to our campus and their local, national, and global relevance.”

UConn Reads Steering Committee would not say if their choice was a direct result of last year’s issues on campus. Their focus is on the United States as a whole.

“In trying to understand the contemporary moment, I find that I turn to literature, which is uniquely suited to reflect upon the complex terrain of race in America,” said director of the Institute of Asian American Studies and chair of the UConn Reads Steering Committee Cathy Schlund-Vials.

“The UConn Reads program was created to bring together the University community – from students, faculty, and staff to alumni and friends of UConn, as well as citizens of Connecticut – for a far-reaching and engaging dialogue centered on a book suggested by the community.”

Recent events in Texas, Baltimore, South Carolina, and Ferguson give students plenty to discuss. Students can submit nominations for the 2015-2016 UConn Reads selection online through August 1, 2015.

“The most recent events at UConn and in the rest of the US only highlight issues that people of color have been clamoring about for centuries,” Rose said earlier this week. “Due to social media and the ubiquity of cell phones, people are now able to syndicate real stories to the masses, which has provided our communities with a great deal of connectedness and therefore strength, in a common voice.”

Last year, UConn Reads selected “food” as its theme and The Omnivore’s Dilemma as the “book to read.” The selected book will be offered at the UConn Co-Op for a discounted price.

State Funding Drops To Lowest In University History

With the new fiscal year set to begin midnight Wednesday, UConn is facing a minimum $28.2 million reduction in state funding from the previous year, dropping the rate of funding the state lends to its flagship university to an all-time low.

Gov. Dannel Malloy has the power to additionally reduce the amount appropriated to UConn by 5 percent before midnight tonight, which could become 6.5 percent depending on a vote by the legislature, which  is currently in special session.

Any further reductions would force the University’s Board of Trustees to revise the new fiscal year’s spending plan, which was finalized on June 24 and divvied up a total of $1.3 billion – $243.2 million from the state – for UConn Storrs and its branch campuses.

“We are waiting and watching and hoping,” UConn Spokesperson Stephanie Reitz said.

The state will now fund only 30 percent of the university’s budget, an appreciable decrease from 43 percent in 2000, and roughly 50 percent in the early 90’s, Reitz said.

State lawmakers originally proposed to cut UConn’s funding by $40 million, but later scaled that back to $28.2 million upon hearing pleas from those who would be most impacted.

”I think it was helpful for legislators to hear student voices (in February). It had an impact in how law makers made their cuts and I believe and I hope it will continue to,” Retiz said.

UConn is not alone in receiving less state higher-education funding.

From 2003 to 2012 the national average for public university funding from their respective state dropped from 32 to 23 percent, according to a report to the Chairman, Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, United States Senate in 2014.

“We are grateful for what we receive,” Reitz said. “We are in better shape than other universities.”

The state’s support is not only being used to fund the day-to-day operations of the school, but infrastructure for the future as well.

Nineteen million of the $243.2 million grant is designated for the Next Generation Connecticut project, which Reitz said the university is obligated to put towards NextGren as a part of an agreement made in spring 2013.

The state funding reductions resulted in $14.6 million less than requested specifically for Next Generations, making UConn unable to proceed with all of the hiring and student scholarships that were planned for this year. The school’s employment of 50 faculty members across all campuses reaches only half of their original goal for this year.

“The hardest thing will now be to get the student to faculty ratio to the 15:1 that we have been striving for,” Reitz said. “We were at 16:1 last year, but it is going to increase now.”

UConn has already enrolled 250 additional freshman in the class of 2019, and despite funding cuts to basic operations and Next Gen – which has resulted in a significant slowing of the planned faculty hiring – the University will continue to increase class sizes each year, Reitz said.

“We are committed to bringing in more (students) because of the dorms under construction and the promise to the state,” Reitz said. “The Next Gen building projects will not be affected. The money for them comes from a capitol bond. The STEM and honors dorms are coming along fine and will finish on schedule.”

The growing student to faculty ratio will force current professors to teach more sections, as well as faculty who have completed research projects to take on more undergraduate classes, Reitz said.

Although faculty will be increasing at UConn, staff and mid-level administrative positions will be seeing rounds of layoffs in order to compensate for the decreased funding.

For example, the Bursar’s offices at all branches have been merged into a single office based in Storrs. The maintenance crews – which used to be separated into residential and non-residential departments – will now merge as one department.

“A lot of empty positions will just be eliminated instead of refilled,” Reitz said. “When people leave throughout the whole year (2015-2016) there will not be a new hire in their place. There is no guarantee that any position that comes open will be filled.”


Obit: Legacy of poly-sci professor extends beyond classroom

With the passing away of Professor Emeritus George Cole on June 10, the University of Connecticut lost one of its most notable luminaries in the field of political science.  Cole, who was 80 years old, died at his home in Mansfield.

“I loved George’s laughter and was impressed (and at times was intimidated) by the breadth of his knowledge, from shepherding to historiography,” Professor of Political Science Cyrus Zirakzadeh said.

Cole was born to Canadian immigrant parents on March 18, 1935 in Plainville, Massachusetts.  Following his graduation from the University of Massachusetts in 1956, he began serving in the United States Air Force, and a year later he married his life long partner Joan Washburn.

After serving in the military, Cole continued his educational pursuit, ultimately receiving his Ph. D from the University of Washington. After initially teaching at Allegheny College, he joined the UConn Political Science Department in 1969.

“Within the department, George’s devotion to all graduate students was legendary,” Zirakzadeh said. “His patient, nurturing, and joyful relationship with his doctoral students became a model for younger members of the faculty, like me.”

Throughout his career Cole had been the recipient of many honors such as two Fulbright-Hays awards, becoming a Fellow at the National Institute of Justice and serving as the chairman of the UConn Political Science Department.

Zirakzadeh recalls a particular incident, which demonstrated to him just how indelible of a mark Cole had left in the field of criminal justice.

“When I first arrived at UConn, I visited Cambridge and had dinner with an assistant professor of public law at Harvard University,” Zirakzadeh said.

“He told me that George’s text on criminal justice was famous throughout the nation and was considered the standard treatment of the field at major law schools, including the University of Michigan, where the professor had earned his JD and PhD.”

Cole was an avid traveler and through the Fulbright-Hays Program was able to conduct criminal justice research in England and the former nation of Yugoslavia.

He eventually retired from the University of Connecticut in 1997.

During his memorial service on June 20, Cole’s family requested that instead of receiving flowers, donations be made to the UConn Foundation to support the George F. Cole Dissertation Fellowship. This award is bestowed on a political science graduate student who is working on a dissertation in public law.

“I know of no one more committed (than Cole) to the future of the political science department at UConn.” Zirakzadeh said.

International Entrepreneurship Program Seeks to Form Connections Between Future World Leaders

For the sixth year in a row, the University of Connecticut will host an international leadership exchange program for North and Sub-Saharan African students, which includes a weekend homestay with an American family; and program coordinators are looking for interested participants.

The Global Training and Development Institute (GTDI) is able to conduct this Summer Institute for Student Leaders in Social Entrepreneurship through U.S. Department of State grant funds. African student leaders from 40 universities are selected by a rigorous application process, and attend the five–week program that consists of classes and workshops centered on entrepreneurship, business, finance and marketing in order to help make a difference in their homeland communities. The international students live in on-campus apartments during the program, with the exception of the weekend homestay, according to UConn’s Daily Digest.

UConn’s weekend homestay program will run from July 24th to July 26th, benefitting both African students and American families due to the exposure of differing cultures. Host families are sought out throughout Connecticut, Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts, GTDI Director Roy Pietro, said.

“Over 200 American families have hosted in the past five years, and the consensus opinion is that (it) can be an extremely rewarding cross–cultural experience,” Pietro said.

Interested families are interviewed ahead of time and provide references for the U.S. Department of State. UConn staff also visit their homes to inspect the bedroom and living spaces to ensure that they meet the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) guidelines.

“This experience provides our visiting international students a glimpse into the everyday life of an American family, as they attend community events, meet with other Americans and have meals with family members and friends,” Pietro said.

The two – way cultural connections obtained through this experience also allows Americans to learn about life in Africa, from local policies, to socioeconomic hardship. This learning process builds understanding and relationships between the United States and countries throughout Africa, Pietro said.

In a UConn Today article about the program run in 2014, Pietro said making an impact on African societies starts with just a few people. He stated that even if a portion of the 40 international student leaders take productive measures back home, an impact has been established.

UConn is the only institution in the state that offers this kind of international partnership. Due to the success of the program, the U.S. Department of State recently granted the GTDI the privilege to replicate this program for 40 student leaders from 10 countries in Southeast Asia. The program will aim to enhance future leader relations with the United States and Southeast Asia. UConn will host the program in the fall 2015 and spring 2016 semesters, allowing interested families another opportunity to provide weekend homestays for the visiting students, Pietro said.

To participate or ask questions about becoming a host family for one or two visiting students, contact Program Coordinator Danielle DeRosa at: danielle.derosa@uconn.edu or 860-486-6305.

Following report, UConn students and alum react to Herbst’s salary

The Hartford Courant reports that University of Connecticut President Susan Herbst made $575,000 in 2014, nearly 135% of the national median of $428,000. Students and alum took to the internet to express their thoughts.

President Herbst is “overpaid and underachieving,” said seventh semester pharmacy major Aaron Zheng.

“Many services of the school function independently and communicate poorly,” Zheng continued, “A lot of money is wasted on hiring more staff, instead of quality staff.”

Herbst received a $70,000 raise in 2014, roughly equivalent to the average annual salary of a Connecticut teacher. UConn Board of Trustees Chairman Larry McHugh believes Herbst deserves her salary and says she has “excelled” as president.

“This contract is reflection of that and offers compensation that is in line with that of many other presidents at large public research universities across the nation,” McHugh said in December shortly after Herbst’s contract was renewed.

“President Herbst heads an institution with a budget of $2 billion, more than 30,000 students, seven campuses, an academic medical center and hospital, and more than 9,000 employees,” university spokesperson Stephanie Reitz said, “The compensation for the president of a company of that size would be many multiples of what the president of UConn is paid.”

Reitz also believes that median salary is misleading statistic.

“Comparing the UConn president’s salary against the median nationwide is an apples-to-oranges proposition because that includes many small and very dissimilar institutions,” said Reitz.

“The most appropriate comparisons are against peer institutions which, like UConn, are large and have a complex research enterprise, wide-ranging academic scope, and robust outreach and service missions in their states.”

UConn alum and journalism major, Joe Klar suggests that no university president should receive such pay.

“Justifying her pay because it’s on par with others leaves out the fact that the president of a public institution, taking public money, and constantly raising tuition should not get paid a ‘million’ a year with two houses and a driver,” Klar said.

A post in UConn’s “Buy or Sell” page, started the discussion.



Search Begins for New Student Health Services Director

In April, Elly Daughterty, the University of Connecticut’s Dean of Students, announced the retirement of Michael Kurland as the Director of Student Health Services. SHS is now looking to recruit a suitable replacement for the highly regarded position.

“(As the director), Michael Kurland performed with skill and commitment for so many years before his retirement,” University Spokesperson Stephanie Reitz said.

Dr. Elizabeth Cracco, UConn’s Director of Counseling and Mental Health Services (CMHS), has been serving as interim upon Kurland’s leave, and she will continue to do so as the search goes on. Once the position is filled, Dr. Cracco will remain as the CMHS Director.

“A search for a position of this significance provides us all an opportunity to reflect and discuss this new position and its impact upon the UConn community,” Daughterty said in a recent email.

UConn is working closely with Keeling Associates, a search firm, in order to find highly qualified applicants for the position. The firm visited campus on June 3rd and 4th to speak to a variety of people

in the UConn community. The firm looked to gather more information about the position that would lead to the development of a description, candidate profile, and recruitment strategy, Daughterty said.

Keeling Associates has been working with colleges and universities since 1984, aiming to strengthen health-related programs and services on campuses. The firm takes on clientele projects such as fulfilling faculty positions, collaborates with national organizations and develops their own scholarship and writing, according to their website.

“Every project we undertake – from academic strategic planning to strengthening student services – is intended to support higher learning in higher education,” their website said.

So far, Keeling Associates officials have met with Student Affairs administration and staff, students, SHS and CMHS members, directors from UConn’s cultural centers, the UConn Health Urgent Care facility manager, and others in order to gain valued perspectives regarding the position, Reitz said.

The search is in a very early stage, as no definite timeline has been established as to when the positionwill be filled. With that said, the search is expected to take several months once it is fully under way, Reitz said.