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Students Protest Aramark Monopoly with Boycott

By Adam Brown

Students held a symbolic boycott against Aramark dining services Wednesday to protest the Institute’s recent decision to extend the food provider’s presence on campus for another three years.

From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., students protested outside Lobdell, Networks, and Walker Memorial. Protesters handing out pamphlets describing their disapproval with “MIT’s rejection of the proposed competitive dining system.” Students also handed out paper bags, encouraging students to bring sack lunches to the protest.

Several placards were placed throughout Stratton Student Center. Slogans ranged from “Lower prices, Better food... End Aramark Monopoly Now” to “Bring a sack lunch... at least you’ll know what you’re eating IS meat!”

Protestors blame MIT

Flyers advertising the boycott to the MIT community claimed that the protest was about a “lack of competition” in Institute dining services rather than Aramark’s performance as MIT’s primary food service provider. “We emphasize that the current situation is not Aramark’s fault... We are not here to communicate an unwelcoming message to Aramark,” the flyers stated.

The protesters intended the boycott to be largely symbolic in order to demonstrate to the administration their disapproval to retain the current dining system. Additionally, “the point of this is not to affect [Aramark’s] bottom line,” said Jeremy D. Sher ’99, a member of the Institute Dining Review Working Group that first proposed competition be brought to MIT’s dining system.

Letter of intent prompts boycott

MIT recently signed a letter of intent giving Aramark the rights to to manage all on-campus dining facilities for an additional three years, despite recommendations from the working group to break up the campus dining monopoly.

Three years ago, MIT instructed the working group to examine the state of campus dining due to an all-time low in student satisfaction. Recommendations from the working group were released in the fall of 1997, calling for two dining zones on campus with distinctly separate dining contractors.

Shortly after the release of these recommendations, MIT adopted them as Institute policy. However, the recontracting of Aramark for both zones is in contradiction with this policy.

Philip J. Walsh, chair of the Dining Implementation Team charged with finding contractors and also chair of the original working group, said that the decision to retain Aramark for an additional three years was due to the stability that Aramark could give the administration during any reorganization that could occur in the future.

“We’ve tried to make an interim decision that is in everyone’s best interests,” said President Charles M. Vest in response to a question by Ingbert R. Schmidt ’01, who showed up in front of Vest’s office with his trumpet to protest personally to the president. Schmidt had been told by Undergraduate Association President Paul T. Oppold '99 that there would in fact be march by Vest’s office at 2 p.m. Wednesday. That larger protest never materialized.

The UA and the Graduate Student Council sponsored the boycott. E-mail advertising the boycott was distributed to numerous student and living groups, asking students to “show administrators that you will not tolerate more broken promises.”

Students Dine Elsewhere

During the the peak lunch hour, Networks was approximately half-filled to capacity during the boycott, although several patrons were eating non-Networks food. Lobdell dining hall was nearly full, but approximately half of the diners brought food from outside. “At Lobdell, I understand [the protesters have] been having a very strong effect,” Oppold '99 said. Walker Memorial, however, was filled to capacity with diners.

Hackers put up Aramark posters around the Infinite Corridor that had striking similarities to recent Microsoft advertisements. One poster had the slogan “Aramark Food 2000: Guaranteed Bug Free,” referring to Microsoft’s upcoming release of its new Windows 2000 operating system.

Another poster played on student sentiments about Aramark’s campus dining monopoly, saying “stuff your face, the efficient optimal way, the way we want you to.”

Wesley Chan contributed to the reporting of this story.