Institute Must Consider All Food Options
The Department of Housing and Food Services has decided to extend Aramark's five year food service contract one more year, primarily to review food service options, consider student input, and prepare to take bids. We endorse this strategy. Student input is indeed essential to the success of this process. Furthermore, during this year of discussion, MIT should attempt to resolve the many problems associated with the current food service monopoly by finding a reasonable alternative.
There are few issues as basic to student needs as food services. Students obviously want the best food at the lowest prices, and they know more about their preferences than anyone else. Their input is clearly needed, and it is high time the Institute recognized this. Now that Housing and Food Services has decided to engage students and their leaders in a joint planning process, the ball is in the students' court. Without their vigorous participation, there is little chance MIT will find an acceptable way of serving them.
It is also critical to seek student participation in the right way. Existing student groups should be consulted as often as possible, and their ideas should be given ample consideration.
One of the major problems with the current system is that whoever wins the bidding process is allowed to establish a five-year monopoly. Experience has demonstrated that Aramark feels little accountability to students or their leaders. Aramark has cooperated poorly with student groups seeking to reinstitute dormitory dining halls. During the years when Aramark was in the red, it demanded unacceptable solutions to its problems such as mandatory meal plans. Finally, without competitions, Aramark has had little incentive to improve its product, except when their contract is up for grabs. MIT's bad experience with Aramark demonstrates problems of price, quality, and accountability inherent in a monopoly.
There must be an alternative to the Aramark monopoly. The student center has room for a host of small food outlets, as does the floor of Walker Memorial. Instead of having one large corporation attempt to handle all of these facilities at once, there could be competition among a number of small, diverse vendors. MIT should consider offering a multiplicity of small concessions, without guaranteeing a profit. A system like this might mean more paperwork for administrators, but the potential benefits for students could be huge.
During the upcoming year, it is imperative that students and administrators cooperate to find creative ways to replace the current dining system. HFS has taken a good first step in planning for student input. The administration should now be prepared to consider a wide variety of plans for campus dining, including those that embody radical change.