College appoints new director of dining services, students concerned with process

Nigel Jaffe

After a semester-long search process, Temesgen Araya has been appointed the College’s next Director of Dining Services, replacing Bob Volpi, who retired earlier this year. Araya will officially step into this role over the summer, leaving his current post as General Manager of Dining Services for NBC with the Flik Hospitality Group.

Araya’s selection was the culmination of months of discussion by the Director of Dining Services Search Committee, a group that consisted of nine staff and administrators and five students. Vice President for Campus Life Steve Klass, the senior staff member responsible for assembling the committee and making the final decision, explained that he conducted this search process in a similar manner to other senior level searches he had run. “The primary variable is that sometimes we use search firms, as we did this time, and sometimes we don’t, as with the chaplain search,” Klass said.

In this case, the College worked directly with JDRQUEST&CO., a national search firm that specializes in food service leadership recruitment. Director of Divisional Business Affairs Aaron Gordon, who chaired the search committee, said that the decision to employ a search firm was made in order to streamline the process of assembling an initial pool of serious candidates. “The advantage of this approach is that the search firm is able to not only post the job in places that attract the best candidates, but they are also aware of highly skilled candidates who may not be actively looking,” he said. “This is a huge benefit when you are trying to tap into an area like food service with such a broad array of backgrounds.”

Once a preliminary group of candidates was established, the committee reviewed each candidate in depth, selecting fewer than 10 for group Skype interviews. “The end goal was to present a comprehensive list of pros and cons of the final candidates,” Gordon said. “This information was compiled and sent to Steve Klass to make the final hiring decision. Steve chose not to chair the committee himself to ensure that the committee recognized that he was not directing the process in any particular direction.” 

Though Klass took the lead on assembling the committee at the outset and reviewed the reports of each committee member in depth, his main connection to the process lay in evaluating the top three candidates and making the final decision. “I am deeply involved in the process at all critical moments,” he said. “I get to know the finalists, I receive and digest a tremendous amount of feedback and I speak to references who know the candidates the best. I believe this provides me with excellent information and positions me to make the best possible choice with a lot of data and in the context of my experience and institutional responsibility.”

Some members expressed discontents with the sudden transfer of responsibility from the committee to Klass. Crystal Ma ’21 said that she was taken by surprise when Klass took over as the process neared its conclusion. “Even though our role and Steve’s role were laid out clearly at the start of the search, as someone who’s never been on one of these committees, I wasn’t able to fully anticipate how it would play out,” she said. “Only at the end, once [Klass] was like, ‘OK, thanks for all your input, I’m going to make the decision,’ was I more aware of my role in the search.”

Michael Rubel ’19, who served on the search committee for the Chaplain to the College, said that these concerns are also true more generally for committees of this nature. “Often, Williams committees are advisory: A lot of people discuss, and then a few administrators make the decisions,” he said. 

Despite those concerns, Klass said that he has worked very intentionally to be as involved with the process as possible while making sure that his presence does not feel overbearing. The structure of this particular search made it so that “one can be critiqued for reduced engagement in the middle phases of the process,” he said, while “different approaches have their strengths and challenges and can be critiqued for various reasons. I’m proud of the hard work that both of these past two search committees has invested in their respective processes and, given the outcomes, wouldn’t change a thing retrospectively.” 

Ma said that she would have been more comfortable if Klass had been involved in the committee throughout. “If Steve were going to be the only one making the final decision, I really would have preferred if [Klass] was participating more during the whole process,” she said. “I think that I would have been able to feel like my voice was heard, and time valued, if he had been involved in the discussion throughout – not only would he have been able to hear all of our values, we would be able to hear all of his.” 

Acting Director of the Davis Center and Director of Campus Engagement Bilal Ansari, who served on the committee, said that the search process was a positive experience overall. “It was thorough, exciting, meandering and perfectly imperfect in the best of ways,” he said. “I felt invigorated and fortunate to be a part of a process that would ultimately deliver one who emerges out of so many wonderful candidates.”

Prep and Service Attendant Lisa Armstrong, who has worked in dining services at the College for over 20 years, expressed her hope that this appointment signals the start of a long legacy at the College. “I hope the person that comes here stays for quite a long time,” she said.