DBA Reforms Make No Progress

by Caleb Powers | 2/17/06 6:00am

We all like food. That's the way we evolved. There used to be cavemen who would sit around and look at their friends eating mammoth meat who would just sigh, thinking to themselves how boring food was. Lucky for us, all those cavemen died. However, there seems to be a growing resurgence in food-hating around campus lately, or meal-plan hating, anyway.

Because of my close relationship with food, I've written quite a few columns about Dartmouth Dining Services in the past. One of my biggest grievances with their system has always been the lack of rollover for DBA funding from term to term. It always struck me as entirely unreasonable. I was therefore ecstatic (as ecstatic as one can be about a meal plan, at least) when I read in "DDS Enacts Major DBA Reforms" (Feb. 14) that DDS is in the process of changing their policy to allow for term-to-term rollover and even interim spending.

By the time I had finished the article, however, my happiness had faded and I had returned to my usual, sad and generally despondent self. This was because these clear steps of progress from DDS had come in a package deal, filled with "compromises" made with the Student Life Committee.

One of these compromises is a new plan to limit spending at Topside to $100 a term (an amount nearly two-thirds of this campus regularly exceeds), tacking all spending over the cap on to the bill that goes home to mom and dad. I have a few problems with this aspect of their compromise, chief among them being that it's dumb. Even if it is completely necessary to redirect student spending to such a magnitude, I don't believe for a second this is the best option. DDS Director Tucker Rossiter explains: "Every dollar spent at Topside DDS makes a 35-cent profit, while at other DDS locations they receive a 65-cent profit for each dollar spent." So why not just kick prices up at Topside thirty cents? Who would even notice? The reason is that having this cap will be an extra source of revenue for DDS, because they know two-thirds of students on this campus can't all completely change their routines that much.

It isn't even the high prices that bother me anymore. As DDS operates at cost, they aren't making a profit. Indeed, my problem is exactly that: they're charging me twelve dollars for soap, and they're not making a profit! Where is all this money going? I asked this question to Rossiter and Assistant Director Dave Newlove last year, and they gave me all sorts of reasons: DDS spends $40,000 a year replacing trays and silverware, DDS is committed to paying its employees a living wage, DDS is committed to buying local whenever possible, DDS is committed to operating at non-peak hours as a convenience for students, etc.

I understand all of this, but I also see a lot of wasted resources around Dartmouth's dining establishments. For example, how many times have you been in Thayer around midnight and noticed that there were a few more DDS employees standing around than there were jobs to do? DDS's only requirement is that they break even; beyond that, there are no incentives for them to cut costs besides the prospect of fewer students complaining.

I would guess that if we contracted out all of the campus eating locations to private, competing companies to whom we gave a few guidelines (to accept the Dartmouth Card, living wage for employees, local options, etc.) we'd be eating just as well, if not better, and we wouldn't be paying four dollars for a cup of fruit at the Hop. Plus we could be saving money on all of the administrative overhead. I'm not suggesting that we should abolish DDS necessarily, but instead trying to make the point that we shouldn't have to settle for the types of compromises that they're proposing as necessary.

Perhaps the efficiency problems with DDS are a microcosm of efficiency problems with Dartmouth as an institution; an institution with so much money that it doesn't see a problem with throwing absurd amounts of it around.

Or perhaps the problems are unique. Or perhaps there aren't any problems at all and I'm just whining. That's probably it. God, I'm such a bitch.

Even so, there's no good reason why we can't do better.

Advertise your student group in The Dartmouth for free!