on CDS Stealing Conceals Weightier IssuesTo the Editors:
I am writing to express my concern about the
recent campus discussion of rocketing dining costs, and their relationship
to dining hall theft. While I agree that dining hall theft is a
pertinent ethical issue, and also agree with president Dye’s
comments concerning student unreasonable feelings of entitlement,
I think that narrowly focused debates on CDS theft serve to disguise
a more relevant issue.
In last week’s Review, Associate Finance VP Ron Watts stated
that CDS revenue is routinely used as a source of funding for non
dining related programs. These funds, Watts admits, are used to
pay for everything from financial aid to facilities costs. Since
reading this disclosure, I find it strange that campus dialogue
has centered on the comparatively small net loss due to theft.
Bon Appetit operates on a fixed contract, one that presumably takes
into account some degree of theft. What Bon Appetit does not take
into account, and cannot, is the percentage of dining revenue that
the college chooses to siphon off for non-CDS related uses.
Of course, it is still a bit early to accuse the college of duplicity.
The revenue CDS is generating is going back into our college education,
defraying tuition hikes or dips into the endowment. However, this
back door method of charging students still seems less then honest.
First, it masks academic costs as routine dining expenditures, limiting
students’ ability to see what they get for their money.
Second, students may have principled objections to Ron Watts statement
in the Review that the meal plan needs to produce a gross margin
to support all the cost of the college because it’s a part
of it. Students might take issue with the idea that any revenue
generating college related enterprise -- from the ‘Sco to
laundry machines -- should bear the burden which is claimed to be
managed by tuition.
Finally, this culinary gerrymandering seems to redistribute college
costs in inequitable ways. Assuming, for instance, that OSCA, whose
members’ pay a different price for meals than CDSers, is disproportionately
comprised of white students, and that the corollary is that a disproportionately
large percentage of students of color eat in CDS, then students
of color may be the recipients of unfair tuition hikes masquerading
as dining costs.
If the college wants to be completely open about how it distributes
costs, it should consider charging one comprehensive fee for tuition,
housing and dining. Not only would all students then share the financial
burden of tuition in an equitable and visible way, but the college
would not have to resort to yearly Reslife revenue tweaking. For
example, if the college were to institute a comprehensive fee, the
administration would not have to convert residence hall lounges
into dorm rooms to raise money. I doubt if anyone prefers an itemized
tuition that compels them to live in a hastily converted smoking
lounge, solely so that the college may generate revenue from housing
instead of tuition.
I do not mean to imply that the college is cheating students in
bad faith, that CDS theft doesn’t contribute to rising dining
costs, or that one group on campus is the sole recipient of these
costs. However, I do think that dining hall theft dialogue debates
an issue of principle, a paper tiger which may be concealing much
more substantial price hikes. If Oberlin students want to stand
morally pure against rising dining costs, they should stop stealing.
But, if the history of theft is any guide, it would be unwise to
forgo very real debates about our money until such a utopian ideal