Credit Where Credit is Due
It's really high time that someone get public credit for the generally outstanding food service that we get here at Dartmouth. Yup, that's right ... I said outstanding. You know, you wouldn't know it from the way that many Dartmouth students and some of my fellow D columnists put it, but in comparison to most any other college in the country, and definitely our sister Ivy League schools, Dartmouth stands head and shoulders above the pack in terms of selection, value and flexibility. Many people deserve credit for this success, and foremost among them is Dartmouth Dining Services Director Tucker Rossiter, who has ensured that DDS gives students what we need and, in most cases, all we want, despite an administrative and financial structure which is hostile to that goal.
Let's start with a little comparison. At Dartmouth, even during the summer when our options are somewhat limited from the regular DDS operation due to the smaller number of students on campus, the average student pays $720 (or the equivalent of about $2200 per year) for service which includes continuous food options during the week from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. with only short breaks in service on weekends. A student can choose to eat at any one of a number of locations, can eat as frequently or infrequently as he/she wishes without being penalized, and can even use DBA at a convenience store! Since we like to compare ourselves to a certain institution down the road in Cambridge, we might learn that, during the regular academic year, a Harvard student pays between $3000 and $4000 per year for food, and can only eat during specified "meal times" (two hours or so for lunch, three for dinner, etc.) If that student misses a meal, it is lost completely, and in no case is on-campus food service open past 9 p.m. Yale is even worse, and Cornell's good food and near-Dartmouth flexibility comes at a much higher rate than we pay. You get the idea.
Yet, despite this obvious success, Rossiter and DDS just can't catch a break. The College administration operates DDS as a stand-alone subsidiary, requiring it to turn its own profit (or at least break even) rather than subsidizing operations. We students don't treat DDS much better, always complaining about how much we are required to pay in DBA. In fact, this summer, rather than applaud the fact that DDS expanded service from last summer (no food after 9 p.m. with the exception of Food Court until midnight one night per week) to include the Lone Pine being open every night until almost 1 a.m. (food service stops at 12:45), we students have given Rossiter and crew a hard time by demanding extended Food Court hours. See, DDS just can't win.
Rossiter really does his best though. As you might have noticed this summer, there have been several nights on which the Food Court staff has started rolling up the sidewalks -- or at least the salad bar -- more towards eight than nine. With limited hours of operation for the summer, it is obviously important to students that they be able to go to Food Court anytime before nine (or three for lunch) knowing that all options will be available. When I brought this concern to Rossiter last week, he immediately acted upon it. He spoke with the Food Court managers and made sure that they realized how important it was (read "issued them a directive") to keep the entire operation open until the posted closing time. Yup, Rossiter went to bat for us to make sure that we could walk into Food Court at 8:50 and get a salad if we wanted one, rather than having to fight our fellow students who work for DDS for the green peppers as they strip the salad bar at 8:15.
There are certainly aspects of DDS which remain in need of continued improvement (Lone Pine is having some serious staffing issues, we are nowhere near adequate Kosher dining, etc.), but isn't it good to know that we have a DDS director who is striving to make student-requested reforms wherever possible within the general paradigm of not significantly raising mandatory DBA (since the student body voted three years ago that keeping tabs on DBA was the most important priority for DDS)? Heck, last week soda refills at the Hop were free because Rossiter learned that students wanted free refills and responded that DDS would pilot such a program. Some people on this campus just don't get the credit that they deserve, and with DDS providing us with service and value that is envy of the Ivy League and beyond, perhaps we should stop moaning and groaning and thank Rossiter and his crew. Recognizing DDS as the partner, rather than the adversary, of the student body, we can continue to improve the nationally-ranked food service at Dartmouth.