Terrace graduate board fires club's chefs, prompting hundreds of complaints
In response to concerns raised by members of Terrace Club after the graduate board fired club head chef Olin Noren and assistant chef Ben Arfa, the Terrace graduate board has formed a new committee to discuss transparency and communication between club members and the graduate board.
The committee, called the Terrace Forward Committee, will convene in the new year and will include three juniors, three seniors, three recent alumni and three board members.
In early December, the Terrace graduate board voted to terminate the employment of Noren and Arfa. Although the graduate board is authorized to make staffing decisions independently of club officers, the firing of the two chefs surprised club members, who felt the decision had been made without adequate consultation of the students and subsequently filed complaints.
The committee will meet in January to examine Terrace club bylaws and propose reforms to the existing graduate board protocol. According to graduate board secretary Justin Goldberg ’02, the goal of the committee is to promote open dialogue between members and the board and prevent future controversy.
The graduate board made the decision to fire the two chefs in early December and club members were notified of the decision on Dec. 15, when Terrace president Dimitris Papaconstantinou ’13 announced the news in an email. In his message, Papaconstantinou emphasized that neither the outgoing senior officers nor the newly elected junior officers had been aware of, or involved in, the decision making process.
“We found out after it had already taken place,” Papaconstantinou wrote.
According to Goldberg, the graduate board had “compelling and urgent reasons” to fire Noren and Arfa as it wished to make the staffing change over winter break to minimize disruption. However, he declined to disclose the details of the reasons for the firing due to legal concerns.
“We have a regular policy for performance reviews and an open policy for expectations. When it comes down to it, the board is authorized to make decisions regarding staffing at its discretion,” Goldberg said.
Noren was hired in 2009 and sought to bring seasonal, local and organic food to the club, whose motto is "Food = Love." Noren did not respond to repeated requests for comment on his departure.
In an email sent from graduate board chairman Sandy Harrison ’74 to club members on Dec. 16, students were informed that the two chefs were fired after receiving “ample feedback and opportunity to improve various key aspects of their job performance and conduct, but ultimately to no avail.”
Although Papaconstantinou said the officers were not consulted on the issue, Goldberg said that the board had communicated their concerns to the officers, who were aware that discussions about the chefs' employment were taking place.
In his email, Papaconstantinou urged Terrace members to contact Harrison with their questions and concerns. Goldberg said that the board received over 200 emails in the first four days after the announcement was made.
“We have since responded to every single one personally, sometimes with subsequent responses back and forth,” Goldberg said.
Hoping to provide members with a centralized platform for discussion, Steven Shonts ’12 created a Facebook group called “Terrans for Transparency,” which encouraged students to post their concerns online. At publication, the group had 226 members.
The majority of posts emphasized student dissatisfaction with the way the graduate board made the decision. Although Terrace members were very fond of Noren and Arfa, according to Papaconstantinou, students were most upset that the discussions were announced publicly only after the decision had been made.
“I think what students felt uncomfortable with was that they didn’t know about the decision before it happened,” Papaconstantinou said. “I gathered from my interactions with people that that’s the main concern. There are pretty robust conversations going on right now about student communication.”
In addition to not having a say in the decisions to fire the two employees, students were also not involved in the hiring of the replacement chef. When Noren was hired three years ago, the board set up a search committee that received over 100 student applications. Steve Krebs, who will replace Noren as head chef after winter break, was chosen by the board without any student input.
“These events unfolded on a more compressed timeline and with less advance notice,” Goldberg said, explaining why the board did not set up a similar mechanism for student input this time.
Although many students argued the decision was rushed and poorly communicated, the actions of the graduate board did not violate any Terrace bylaws.
“Based on my understanding, it’s pretty clear that they didn’t do anything that they weren’t supposed to do,” Papaconstantinou said. “With Terrace’s culture of openness, students think it would be fair moving forward [for the board] to communicate their decisions more clearly.”
Goldberg said he understood that their decision was controversial but noted that the new committee would be instrumental in assuaging any tension.
“We recognize that students are upset, and we acknowledge that there are reasons for concerns. We are really working our tails off to allay those concerns and rebuild their trust,” Goldberg said.
Papaconstantinou said he does not expect the events of the past few weeks to affect sign-in numbers this February.