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Hitting ’em Where It Hurts

Josh Bittker, Ryan Ochylski, and Naveen Sunkavally

The MIT administration has shown its disregard for student opinion once again with its recent decision to extend Aramark’s monopoly for three more years. It is clear that symbolic protests and committees for student input are of no importance to the real decision-makers at the Institute. To bring about real change in the dining system, it is necessary for the MIT community to sustain a long-term boycott of MIT Dining Services. Unfortunately, this lack of on-campus options might hinder the the efforts of some of the would-be boycotters. This is exactly the reason why those who can boycott, should.

The real motivating factors behind the dining decision were money and lack of organization. Several companies placed bids for a portion of the dining service on campus, but MIT refused to consider them because many requested capital improvements to dining facilities. It is shameful that MIT, in the midst of a billion-dollar capital campaign that is supposedly focused on improving student life, will not consider the relatively minor sum required to bring about such an essential improvement. It is also pathetic that this decision happened in the manner it did, dragged on for years with a promise of an eventual solution. There is no excuse for the lack of organization that led to this insult to the MIT community.

The only way to bring about administrative action is to use the terms they understand: profits and revenue. The current dining contract, which is being renegotiated, is set up such that Aramark makes the same amount of money regardless of profitability. MIT absorbs any losses and takes any profits. A long term boycott by even ten percent of the student body will cause MIT dining to suffer a loss that will force the administration to reconsider student satisfaction in campus dining.

Student consideration is clearly not a factor now. Aramark has had health violations and increasing prices, yet MIT has extended their contract year after year after year. These very pages jokingly speculated in 1995 that the Aramark contract would probably be extended, year by year, into the next century.

This has now happened, ten years after the initial calls for an alternative to Aramark. The Institute Dining Review Working Group recommended dividing the campus into two zones and specifically said that the two zone contracts should not go to the same company. The administration made these recommendations “Institute policy,” only to renege on its commitment to student input.

It is clear that the only way to communicate with the senior administrators responsible for this decision is a sustained boycott that causes a financial loss for MIT. A symbolic one-day boycott will have the same effect as the years of student input and complaints -- they will be brushed aside in favor of financial considerations. Those responsible for this decision, Executive Vice President John R. Curry and Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education Rosalind H. Williams, have made it clear that student input means nothing to them on this issue. It is time for the students to demonstrate that their opinions do matter.

The problem with Aramark’s monopoly is illustrated by the difficulty of a sustained boycott. Many students, especially those with financial aid, rely on dining services that accept the MIT Card. There are some alternatives that accept the card that are not run by Aramark -- the Coffeehouse, Dominos, and the Baker and Burton-Conner snack bars. There are also many other dining alternatives on or near campus, such as the food trucks, Laverde’s, and the new Star Market. The lack of choice in on-campus dining is indicative of the need for change and is exactly the reason the Dining Working Group recommended competition. An elegant solution to many of these problems would be to work with other vendors like LaVerde’s to accept the MIT card.

Symbolism and communication have their place. These have been ignored in the dining debate, and symbolic efforts and protests will mean nothing. The only way to enact change in campus dining is to boycott Aramark food services until the administration accepts student input and allows competition in campus dining.