Szuhaj: Enough Bells and Whistles

DDS and Dartmouth’s administration must adopt substantive change.

by Ben Szuhaj | 5/4/17 12:45am

With the introduction of flat-screen TVs, the option to “text Foco” and musical accompaniments at mealtime — to name a few of the changes Dartmouth Dining Services has implemented in the past few months — it seems like DDS is doing everything it can to increase student satisfaction. The sad truth, however, is that DDS can dress up overpriced food and basic service with all the bells and whistles it wants, but none of those Band-Aid fixes address the real problem: DDS has a virtual monopoly over student dining choices.

Enrolled students are forced to buy a meal plan; the cheapest option, which is $970, is only accessible to students living off-campus. This is despite the fact that for some, buying groceries and preparing their own food is a more sensible option. Not only that, but incoming students are forced to buy the most expensive meal-plan, “the 20,” named after the amount of meal swipes included each week, which comes with $100 in DBA and little flexibility in dining options. While some may argue that the 20 ensures that freshmen stay adequately fed and increases social interaction by encouraging them to dine at the Class of ’53 Commons, the reality is that DDS is concerned first and foremost with profit, reportedly generating over $1 million in net income in 2011.

Rather than making real, substantive changes — such as improving the quality of food, lowering the cost of food or expanding operations to include an additional blender in Collis or a second line at the Courtyard Cafe — DDS flouts quick, meaningless changes, such as the removal of napkin dispensers on all tables or the addition of unwanted music in Foco, as laudable action. One must only wait in line at the Hop and read the messages sent to “@txtcyc” to realize the foolishness with which DDS regards its relationship with the student body. Rather then provide actual, valuable customer feedback, the Hop’s flatscreen monitors provide mindless entertainment. Rather than vent serious frustrations with its service, exorbitant prices and questionable food quality, students have taken to ridiculing DDS. While comedy can and should be used as a method of coping, we must not let it cover DDS’ inefficiencies. We should recognize that this very dynamic — our tendency to “meme” annoyances — is also at work when we discuss Dartmouth’s administration.

It’s no secret that the administration is unpopular. In a survey carried out by The Dartmouth last July, ’18s gave the administration as a whole a -75.5 favorability rating. Issues such as ending need-blind financial aid for international students and the “Moving Dartmouth Forward” initiative received -78.2 and -65.7 net favorability ratings, respectively. In the same survey, the faculty received a +84.3 net favorability rating. Student opinion is clear: faculty are doing their jobs well. Administrators — even if they are doing their jobs well — are viewed unfavorably.

Staff at Dartmouth increased by 14 percent from 2010 to 2015, while the number of faculty only increased by 6 percent during the same period. Of that 6 percent, about a quarter were faculty added to one of Dartmouth’s professional schools — the Tuck School of Business, Thayer School of Engineering or Geisel School of Medicine. With the $160 million Dartmouth committed to create the Arthur L. Irving Institute for Energy and Society, it is increasingly clear that the administration values its role as a research university. While opinions on this move will differ, one of Dartmouth’s main draws is its storied history as a top-tier liberal arts college. Boasting excellent faculty and academic diversity in the relatively remote location of Hanover, New Hampshire, Dartmouth often bills itself as a bastion of learning, creative freedom and self-growth. However, Dartmouth feels less and less like a “small college” filled with “those who love it” and more and more like a corporation.

Dartmouth’s administration has struck an increasingly patriarchal tone with students. Banning hard alcohol, instituting the housing system and de-recognizing Greek organizations are all manifestations of apparently unwanted administrative intrusion into the lives of students. As thrilling as Founder’s Day was for many starry-eyed freshman last winter, contrived events like it are often met more with sarcasm and memes than with genuine excitement. We, as students who simultaneously inhabit a position of tremendous privilege due to our education and one of powerlessness to change institutional mainstays such as DDS, often respond with a curious mix of apathy and humor.

However, while we laugh, we must not forget that other, better systems exist. Many schools have a system whereby students can spend funds similar to DBA on off-campus dining options. Administrative restructuring — and therefore the possibility of reducing the number of administrators — is a feature of many college presidents’ tenures. Alternative strategies to increase efficiency, reduce costs and improve student satisfaction are clearly viable options, but they will not be carried out unless we continue to pressure both DDS and the administration.

That said, what should be the easiest fix of all still hasn’t happened. How many times do I have to text DDS before it adds a second blender for Collis smoothies?