June 29, 2009

Universities Wrestle with Kosher Program

Chicago…Universities all over the country offer kosher food for many of their students in an effort to attract some of the brightest applicants. But in conversations with many rabbis and certifying agencies, a number of the universities are struggling to keep the programs within budget. The kosher fare that the universities offer range from vending machines to full kitchens, under kosher certification. Several of the universities have been forced to either trim back their kosher programs or cut them out altogether. That is the case with the University of Wisconsin-Madison when it ended a short-lived experiment with its own state-of-the-art kosher kitchen. Certified by the Chicago Rabbinical Council, the University could no longer afford the salaries of the two mashgichim (kosher supervisors) which came to $80,000. A new Hillel facility should be able to pick up where the university left off. Wisconsin and some of the other universities say that only a small percentage of the Jewish students frequent the kosher kitchens, which in the end means that demand falls short of meeting the fixed expenses. University officials agonize over decisions to cut back a kosher program because “we do loose quite a few good students.” In recent years, major universities throughout the country have upgraded their kosher programs, in many cases working with the local Hillel organizations. One community rabbi with connections to the local university said: “They very much want the students but have difficulty making it financially.” Even when universities take the drastic action to cut back a kosher program, they strive to offer alternatives, from the frozen airline meals to arrangements with local caterers and restaurants.