Food For Thought Cafe to remain closed

The Student Organization Application and Recognition committee held a final conduct hearing regarding Food For Thought’s closure on May 19.

After a review by the Oregon University System auditor and a Portland State investigation regarding the cafe’s cash handling, adherence to code of conduct and other policies and procedures, SOAR decided to uphold the decision for the unrecognition of Food For Thought as a state-funded and student-operated service. It will remain closed for the rest of the academic year.

However, while the space in the basement of Smith Memorial Student Union will remain unused for the time being, there is still hope for the reopening of Food For Thought. The Student Fee Committee forgave $43,000 of Food For Thought’s deficit, effectively zeroing the cafe’s operating budget for next year and giving them the opportunity for a fresh start.

Domanic Thomas, assistant dean of Student Life and director of Conduct & Community Standards, joined Food For Thought’s conduct meeting to provide a working draft of a report detailing the cafe’s violations and the overage forgiveness request. Stated in the conduct summary review, SOAR gave conditions for possible re-recognition of the cafe as a student-operated service.

“To be recognized by SOAR, we have to put together an advisory board that would be tasked in creating a business plan,” said Aimee Shattuck, director of Student Activities and Leadership Programs. The proposed advisory board would consist of student, faculty, staff and community members, but a majority of the students on the board would have to be students who had not been previously employed by Food For Thought.

While the process of choosing the members is still in the works, Shattuck suggested approving each adviser through recommendation of Angela Hamilton, the coordinator of Student Operated Services, as well as former Food For Thought employees Haley White and Leona Kinderman. “I am working with students on an outreach plan for overall interest in the future of the cafe, but will also include an open call for nominations to the advisory board,” Hamilton said.

Shattuck said that their goal is to reach out for collective university help, find experts in cash handling and sustainable business practice and try to have a diverse array of students on the board.

“Participation on the advisory board is voluntary,” Hamilton said. “Additional working groups will probably be needed to accomplish certain tasks throughout the summer, but everything will come back to the board regarding decision making and creating the business plan.”
The plan would ultimately be approved by Shattuck, Thomas, the Smith Advisory Board and the SFC.

“The time frame for completion of these aspects is complex and dependent on the willingness of students to adhere to proper procedures and the support and supervision of SALP and the SFC,” Thomas said. While there are a lot of things to accomplish before reopening, the collective members are dedicated to reinstating Food For Thought as a student resource.

“It would be really hard, but people are super committed. If we managed our expectations it would be possible,” Shattuck said, alluding to a simplification of the staffing plan and menu. While there were discussions at Food For Thought’s May 7 panel of providing other services at the cafe, it was determined that this would become too complex and hinder its reopening. The advisory board would solely be tasked with addressing checks and balances in order to avoid another closure.

Discussions at the panels have produced a goal to reopen a space similar to Food For Thought, but with more structure and involvement with the student boards. The past relationship between Food For Thought and SOAR has been strained in regards to lack of communication, but with a new start Shattuck is determined to bridge that gap.

“Rather than us coming up with our own ideas and then pitching them to one another, we should be creating ideas together, starting with a common purpose and working on those together,” Shattuck said. “We can make it even better.”

“It is important not to limit our thinking about the future of the cafe based solely on what it has been in the past,” Hamilton said. “In fact, because of the sanctions from Student Conduct and the need to address concerns of exclusivity coming from the student community, many of us will need to come to terms with changes to what has been ‘our place’ on campus. 

“We have a chance to look at the cafe’s roots, original intentions to serve as a point of experiential learning on campus, and a vibrant community space for all students.”