Dining Dollars

A friend of mine recently sent me this link, concerning a recent policy chance at the school. As a former student of Bradley University, I am always intrigued to hear when the student body gets up in arms about something. In this case, the structure of the on campus meal plans had changed, angering a large number of students.

Of course, it’s not made clear what the issue is in the petition, and for those interested, here is an overview of the mealplan for this year from the school’s site. Since it took me a while and a bit of conversation to figure out what exactly is going on here, let me break it down. In the old system, you would just buy one of two meal plans, one costing more than the other. Some portion of the money for each plan goes to “overhead,” while the rest is a pool of money students can buy meals with at campus dining locations, each meal costing $4-7 dollars or so. The details are not particularly important, and the system is nothing special. This new system, however has been revamped. Instead of draining money from an account, students are allotted some number of meals per week (7 or 9 depending on the purchase of a big/small plan) and in addition there is an account of “dining dollars” that is used to purchase other meals at the dorm dining halls, and possibly certain fast food/sit down restaurants around campus. I think there are another couple caveats, but there are a couple of specific things that have people up in arms.

What is relevant is there are two things students are upset about; first, the new plan is needlessly complicated for no reason. This is a fair point, but I think a lot of things at universities become needlessly complicated for no reason. But there also are two other properties of this new system; one, because it is meals per week, you are not compensated for unused meals. For example, if you have nine meals a week, and you only use six, you don’t get those extra 3 meals back, they don’t roll over. You just lose them. Secondly, (and let us keep in mind that students who do not join Greek Life are forced to live in the dorms and buy a meal plan for their first two years at Bradley) what used to happen was that any leftover meal-plan money was transferred to a “Quickcash” account (money you can use at the campus bookstore and nearby retail locations) and then withdrawalable from this second account upon graduation. Now, only up to $100 of these “Dining Dollars” transfer, and everything over that is forfeited. Now, understandably some students are upset about this. One student on the petition page writes how he saves up several hundred by the end of the semester on his meal plan, which he is in danger of losing. Students feel that they are being cheated and stolen from.

As for myself, I’m not a student but my opinion is mostly that my freshman year roommate, Steve, paid and is paying 120 grand for a degree in sports communication. I’m not sure how screwed Mr. Mealplan is in the grand scheme of things.

What I find more interesting is what happens if we assume malice on either the part of Bradley University or Aramark, the food service provider. Let’s just take the corporate fascist evil as true for the rest of this post, even if this can be explained by naivete or incompetence. It’s what about two hundred students seem to think, according to the internet. The thing is, even though they are screwing over students for some extra money, I don’t see how it will hurt them. The University’s tuition has silently increased five hundred dollars over last year- already more than the vile Dining Dollars will ever effect anyone. And I don’t see a situation where it will cost them students. If we take out the factor of Alumni donations, I don’t see them losing any money over this. A student isn’t going to leave an expensive school because the food plan is terrible, and no one will leave their education, friends, and possibly their future over some asinine policy from a fucking dining hall. I don’t see the a student, torn between two colleges, becoming so distraught over Dining Dollars that they instead choose to go to University of Somewhere Else instead; they are a freshman and will just assume this system is the law of the land. I didn’t know anything about my school’s food before I started attending it, and nor did I particularly care. My main concern was getting the best education I could manage. And the school, despite a petition of two hundred students on a campus of six thousand. will almost certainly go on with what they are doing and ignore the halfhearted student protest. Students have more important things to do and likely more important things to protest about.

And what will happen is students will complain, then deal with the new policy and get used to it, and move on. And the school might well steal from them, but nothing will be done about it. And this is important to look at, I think, because it’s a situation where even though some people are going to get cheated, and while they theoretically have the option to take their business elsewhere, it’s not really practical to considered the costs involved. And I’m not sure what to think about life’s small injustices like this, because there is literally nothing practical that can be done, and no reason to dwell on it. I mean, we could fight tooth and nail to get it changed, but that effort would probably be better used stopping wars, or saving starving African children. (All Americans know that 90% of African citizens are starving children.) And mostly (as it is other people being screwed over not myself) I think it’s interesting, and a pinch of funny and sad, that an institution can arbitrary afflict perhaps large costs on the people who it is supposed be serving. And nothing ever happens to it, or will happen to it, because the personal cost of an effected person doing something about it are too high for someone to make a big enough deal out of it

Interestingly, for almost 40k a year, if two students were to actually be willing to quit over it, that may in fact be all it takes for it to be worth it to the school to chance policies, but I’m not sure what it costs the school to have one marginal student, so that may not be true.

Also “Dining Dollars” is an atrociously lame attempt at alliteration. It makes me angry.

 
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