The leak of a draft consultants’ report to the Blue Ribbon Committee on Dining clearly sparked some strong feelings on campus over the past week. One of the ways in which this concern manifested itself was in the form of a well-attended and fairly conspicuous protest rally in Lobby 7 last Tuesday.
However, the rally was organized in opposition to a draft report from a consulting company, not an administrative decision or a finding from the committee or anyone else at MIT. The draft report has not even been formally discussed by the members of the committee and doesn’t yet represent a plan of action from anyone responsible for reforming the dining system. So why are students acting like this is such a big deal?
The simple answer is that the undergraduate community has lost faith in the system. They feel as if the cards are stacked against them. Even though the committee has a number of student representatives, the history of the committee has led people to believe that they are not afforded an equal voice in the process. Students don’t have faith that their own representatives can turn back this ill-considered proposal in the committee as it is currently run.
The Blue Ribbon Committee has been dogged by problems since long before the events of this past weekend. Charges have been leveled that the committee does not adequately represent large segments of the campus population and that student members have been restricted from providing detailed reports of the committee’s deliberations. Meeting minutes and records have been equally difficult to come by. Lack of information breeds fear and concern.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was when certain staff and administrators on the committee chose to receive and review Envision’s draft report without the knowledge of the student members.
This secrecy violates the spirit of open discourse in which the committee was chartered and serves as yet another example of how the Institute treats students as junior partners even in decisions that directly affect their welfare and experience here.
Though the protest earlier this week was mostly focused on the content of the report, the real necessary change is in the decision-making process.
We support the efforts of the UA and other student groups to make the process more transparent, either by restructuring the Blue Ribbon Committee or by replacing it with a student-led effort. We hope that Dean Columbo, Dean Nilsson, and others will meet these efforts in kind and work to shape a reform proposal that is student-driven and respects student preferences.
This editorial originally appeared in The Tech on February 20, 2009. For a news article about the current status of dining reform, see page 1.