The Chronicles of a Witty Observer

If Ebenezer Scrooge Ran the Food Industry (An Editorial)

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of visiting my boyfriend’s school, St. Lawrence University. It is a pleasant little campus not too much bigger than my own alma mater, Wells College. St. Lawrence hosts about 2,000 on-campus students at present and, for the most part, seems to be your average college.

However, one thing in particular angered me about St. Lawrence: the food. It was wonderful.

I felt like Little Orphan Annie the moment she first stepped in Oliver Warbuck’s mansion and realized she wasn’t there to wash the floors. The dining room was abound with many, many different brunch stations you’d expect to find in a hotel ballroom before a college’s dining hall. Between the fruit bar (which had not only fresh fruit salad but ‘fruit pizza’ and a favorite from my youth: ‘ants on a log’), the salad station, the soups, the breakfast bar, the lunch bar, the frozen yogurt station, and the make-your-own waffles with three types of batter, I felt like I should’ve paid more than whatever was charged to my boyfriend’s student account.

Then, the next afternoon, I came to dinner at dear sweet Wells’ dining room, having returned from my exquisite journey into the unbelievable, to face a bar of…food. The samples I sent to the lab for identification purposes have yet to return.My fairytale dining experience had ended, and this Cinderella was back to praying that the bagels weren’t stale.

Until the fall of 2009, Wells College was listed as having the second worst college campus food in the country. However, this was back when Wells contracted the infamous provider of prison-food, Sodexho, to cook for the students. With the downfall of the economy, Wells took a major hit to it’s financial status, as did nearly every college in the nation (naturally). Wells gave up the Sodexho contract in favor of the locally-owned Aurora Inn Inc., which already virtually owns the township of Aurora and everything edible in it. It came cheaper, and hopefully, better.

I miss Sodexho.

With the major change in dining hall ownership came many downgrades to the quality of the food and the quality of the service. Vegetarians are left scrounging for wilted salad. There is a hamburger bar every night but a disturbing lack of fresh (and ripe) fruit. The servers are suddenly (and inexplicably) gung-ho about not allowing anyone to eat before 5:30.01 PM, and will give you attitude if they catch you looking at the spread three minutes before. The ‘To-Go’ stand, which used to be a part of the meal plan for all on-campus students, is not no longer and must be paid for separately (and with more cash than ever before with five-dollar salads and three-dollar pudding cups). Comment-cards are frequently received but rarely read and/or answered, and many that are answered are the occasional no-helps like ‘good job with dinner tonight!’ with a ‘thanks! Glad you liked it!’

But what has to be the worst change of all is the excuse for all of this awful treatment: cutting corners.

Yes, sister Wells, we understand you are on the verge of bankruptcy. We understood it when several of our favorite faculty members were laid off with little warning. We understood it when you cut the Music and Religion majors (another big mistake that may be saved for another tirade) and cut the entire Foreign Language department in half. Saving money and making sacrifices is necessary for survival. You are small and cannot sustain too much finanical burden.

Well, neither can St. Lawrence University. According to Nick Mello, a junior, the school is in just as much financial trouble, reletively speaking.

“We’ve had to cut corners everywhere,” he said. “The recession has put us very close to the edge.”

And yet, the food is not only edible, but satisfying with plenty of options and mutual respect between the staff and students? With four-times the student population of Wells, St. Lawrence certainly doesn’t flaunt it’s financial shortcomings.

“We don’t use caterers. We have chefs and rely on student workers for serving. As much of the food is local as possible,” Mello affirmed. “There isn’t much complaint at all.”

So, what is your excuse, Wells?

The students are not being respected for the sake of a few hundred dollars, which they pay back to the school in the form of tuition at the end of the day anyways. Cutting corners may be necessary in order to save the school, but when it comes at the cost of customer (or, in this case, student) satisfaction and respect, perhaps it is time to step back and re-evaluate the situation. There has to be a less-compromising way of saving money that doesn’t cause your students to lose the Freshman 15.

As of May 2010, the Wells College retention rate is at 52%, which is disturbing low, especially for a school with a total student body of under 600. This, if anything, is detrimental to the college’s economic health. Perhaps the answer is not in cutting out, but in attracting more students and keeping them. After all, the more graduating students who appreciate their school means more alumni who are willing to donate to their alma mater. Treating the current student body as if they are a financial burden won’t exactly encourage alumni endowments further down the line. Of course, this is one suggestion. Surely taking more than thirty seconds to come up with solutions could produce some ideas which might be beneficial to more than just the President’s wallet.

Then again, I’m just a student at your school. What do I possibly matter?


One response

  1. Bjean

    Very well written, you have a future writing editorials if you were to wish it šŸ™‚ As part of the student body that Wells could not retain, it was an article of interest to me. You really brought the issue to light, making me ACTUALLY APPRECIATE the year of Sodexho food I remember so …. fondly? Well, Wells has become a great place for students seeking weight loss. I really do miss her though, despite šŸ™‚ Perhaps eating at a local soup kitchen would be a fresher, healthier change of pace for these cash-strapped burdens of the college’s good will? Seriously though, you are good. Nice job!

    December 11, 2010 at 3:05 pm

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