January 26, 2022

College’s fare under fire

SUNY Cortland’s food draws complaints from students

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

SUNY Cortland students NKayla DiFalco, left, Benjamin Tainter and Nicole Ortiz sit Tuesday outside Neubig Hall. After complaints about food, the college said a shortage of workers and a lack of communication are part of the problem

The problem of SUNY Cortland’s dining hall food began for freshman Brittani Dauley at the start of the semester in August, said her mother, Nancy Dauley.

At first it was the quantity of the food, receiving only two small chicken nuggets and a scoop of rice, she said.

It grew to undercooked food, sometimes leading Brittani and other students to sickness or other places to eat.

Nancy Dauley has reached out to school and SUNY staff, but is still considering more unilateral action.

“It’s to a point now where I’m contemplating talking to my daughter if she wants to transfer next semester,” Nancy Dauley said.

Dauley is one of a number of SUNY Cortland parents who have recently raised concerns about the college’s dining hall food, which the school attributed in part to staffing shortages and miscommunication.

Fred Pierce, the college’s director of communications, said Tuesday the college will investigate complaints, but said getting specific details can be hard as complaints are often from second or third-hand sources.

He did say food service staff for the college has been reduced by about 40% as part of the national labor shortage, which may have factored into some of the problems. Normally, there are about 200 full-time workers and 350 student workers.This semester, there are 150 full-time workers and 131 student workers, Pierce said.

This has meant the closing of one dining hall and reducing hours and staff at other dining locations, he said.

Additionally, changes made prior to the pandemic regarding food portion sizes weren’t communicated well to new students by the college, leaving some questions for people posting about the food online.

A Facebook page called SUNY Cortland Students for Dining Improvement was created Sept. 27 and features pictures posted by parents of food either being improperly prepared or in small portions.

One post, shared by Nancy Dauley, from Oct. 7 features a picture of two pieces of lettuce, a bit rotten, two croutons and a few pieces of shredded cheese with the caption “Caesar Salad ?!?!” and a facepalm emoji.

Photo provided by Nancy Dauley

Staffing shortages and other issues have led to SUNY Cortland students getting salads, sometimes with rotting leaves. Students have also complained of undercooked food.

Dauley also shared a picture of chicken she said was undercooked. These are some of the reasons why senior Nicole Ortiz tends to get her meals elsewhere.

“I usually do lunch if it’s convenient here,” she said Tuesday, speaking outside Neubig Hall. “But I don’t venture out of my way to come to Neubig.”

Additionally, items for students who have dietary restrictions aren’t always available, she said.

“One of my friends is dairy-free and they don’t have the things that they need,” she said.

Pierce could not comment specifically on the issue raised by Ortiz as it had not been brought to his attention.

Ortiz, who transferred to SUNY Cortland, during her junior year, said she has experienced this with both the quality of the food and the amount.

The pandemic has also forced other changes, such as sometimes changing menu options due to food shortages like a national shortage of chicken wings, Pierce said.

Additionally, the college joined the national Healthier Campus Initiative, which in part, focuses on smaller and more balanced portion sizes to provide students with healthier dishes and to reduce waste, he said.

Because of the pandemic, that message hasn’t gotten across to people during orientation as in years past, Pierce said.

The college didn’t inform students of the portion size change, but students can always ask for a double portion or seconds, Pierce said.

“No one will question it,” he said.

Pierce said the complaints are often second- or third-hand by the time they reach college officials and can be hard to get specific details needed to investigate. The college, nonetheless, will still look into them.

Additionally, Pierce said that food may be undercooked or overcooked from time to time but that students should report to food servers when that happens and can get a new serving.