Students urge Mercer to switch dining service providers after confusion over meal plan sharing

Aramark+provides+food+service+to+hospitals%2C+universities%2C+schools+and+more%2C+including+Mercer+University.

Lars Lonnroth

Aramark provides food service to hospitals, universities, schools and more, including Mercer University.

A Mercer student created a petition asking administration to remove Aramark as its dining service provider following a recent incident involving both General Manager Janet Walker and Mercer Police.

Sophomore Gabe Thomas said that he let his girlfriend, who is also a student, use his Bear Card to buy a meal at Chick-fil-A while he went to the Farmer’s Market Jan. 23.

“I tapped my card and handed it to her, and the general manager, Janet Walker, snatched the card aggressively from her hand and began to be aggressive in speech towards me,” Thomas said. “She confiscated my Bear Card and started taking pictures of it to send to her supervisor and Mercer Police, all for trying to buy someone food.”

Thomas said that Walker returned his Bear Card to him, but threatened him with “sanctions” from Mercer Police and the Office of Student Conduct Resolution. He said that Walker’s tone “was so disrespectful and mean” that his girlfriend started crying during the altercation.

Jeffrey Craven, a sophomore, wrote the online petition after personally witnessing Walker speak to Thomas and his girlfriend following the incident in the University Center.

Walker did not respond to a request for comment from The Cluster. However, Associate Vice President for Auxiliary Services Ken Boyer said in an email to The Cluster that the Bear Card policies are not Aramark’s, but Mercer University’s.

“The policy has been in place for well over 20 years, and all students and employees acknowledge this when they apply for a Bear Card,” Boyer said. “The Bear Card is non-transferable, meaning it should and can only be used by the party the ID is issued.  Unauthorized use may result in disciplinary action.”

Boyer said that all dining staff are responsible for “detecting fraudulent use” of the Bear Card system. If they identify someone using a card that doesn’t belong to them, their job is to confiscate the card and turn it over to management, who then contact Mercer Police to investigate. It’s up to Mercer Police to determine whether the card was stolen and to return it to its owner. From there, the results will be sent to the Office of Student Conduct Resolution “for processing for violation of the Student Code of Conduct,” Boyer said. 

Boyer said this policy does not come unwarranted.

“Over the last several months, we have had a rash of students loaning cards out to friends, and in about a dozen or more cases of folks taking or stealing cards to access the dining facilities,” Boyer said. “In several cases last semester, students’ cards were used without their knowledge by fellow students. I know in two cases, all of their dining dollars were used up, and the students did not have funds for their use. It would be irresponsible not to enforce this policy.”

On the evening of Jan. 23 following the incident between Walker and Thomas, Boyer sent an email to all students reminding them of policies barring the sharing of meal plans.

“Meal Membership plans are to be used by the cardholder only and are non-transferable,” Boyer wrote. “Anyone caught using another individual’s Bear Card to purchase a meal or enter a dining facility will have their card confiscated and referred to student judicial. In addition, a $50 fee will be applied for card return and re-activation.”

In the petition he created that night, Craven said that the behavior of service staff isn’t the only issue he has with Aramark. He cited the quality of food and cleanliness within the dining facilities.

“Mercer University students spend $1000s of dollars for a product that should be of higher quality than the current one we are receiving through Aramark,” Craven wrote in the petition. “Macon is already a city that has an issue as a food desert, and students need a food resource that is reliable. Making students have to deal with police officers over confusion on Bear Card access does not count as a reliable move.”

At press time, Craven’s petition to replace Aramark as the meal services provider on Mercer’s campus had accrued 65 signatures.

The policy regarding proper use of Bear Cards for meal membership access is available on the Auxiliary Services website.