The illusion of student choice

At the end of last spring semester, some combination of student outcry and leaked information to City College News resulted in the administration calling do-over on its selection process for a food service provider, now that the end of Sodexo’s contract draws near.

The complaints lobbied against the administration were mostly that there was practically no student input. Although they had a couple of symbolic student guests at the table, the weight of their input was virtually zero, and the administration failed to take into account any of their suggestions of proposed ways of handling food service at MCTC.

The college extended Sodexo’s contract, due to expire this past summer, apparently to buy them time to correct this error and start over with students more involved.

What does that involvement look like?

We get to fill out a survey so that the administration can pick between two pre-selected candidates: Sodexo and Lancer, a pair of “food inc.” twins, for all intents and purposes, with sterilized, pharmaceutical-sounding names to match.

Students are clearly unhappy with Sodexo and have been complaining about them incessantly since first catching wind that Sodexo’s contract will soon be up. Sodexo has also been subject to a number of complaints and health code violations.

Yet the only choices we’ve been given are between Sodexo and an even more expensive provider. According to Laura Fedock at the Sept. 12 Student Senate meeting, Lancer is more expensive for the items students at MCTC most commonly purchase.

So we have a choice between a service we aren’t happy with, or a more expensive service that we had no hand in selecting. What sort of choice is that?

The selection of our food service provider candidates was never re-opened to students. Suggestions to utilize the culinary department or use local companies with various appealing aspects were never seriously considered, as far as City College News is aware.

Even the survey doesn’t represent any true student involvement. It is not a vote on which of these two pre-selected food services students want. It is simply a survey about various aspects of food service without ever really revealing which company offers what. The administration may choose to ignore it completely, or interpret it as suits them.

The so-called “student involvement” the administration is touting in the food service selection process is purely symbolic. No real student involvement existed when they started the process, and no real student involvement exists now.

Students had no say in who the candidates would be. Students have no real say in which candidate will be chosen. At precisely what point did this student involvement the administration speaks of occur?

With a Garden Club that was chomping at the bit to contribute, a culinary program right on campus, and a wealth of student ideas to make food service healthier, more affordable, and more in touch with student needs, why is the administration so insistent on forcing us to choose between Food Inc 1 and Food Inc 2, without even knowing in any concrete terms which offers what?

Or, more accurately, pretending as though we get any real choice at all?

The gears of bureaucracy turn slowly, and representative student involvement is always a challenge at MCTC, but this is not truly a good faith effort.

There are all kinds of possible reasons the administration may have curtailed the process so much, from time to expense to simple expediency, but in a college where a significant portion of students may get their only full meal of the day on campus, and with such an insistent desire of the students to be involved and put in the leg work, none of those are good reasons to have shut students out of the process so completely.

Furthermore, it seems slightly intellectually insulting to sell a survey like this as a way in which students can be truly involved. With no direct hand in any decisions made about their food service, and no hand at all in choosing the candidates, that is little more than dishonest marketing.

If the administration truly wants to make a good faith effort to involve students, the process must be begun again, with student input and willingness to work invited to the table and permitted to actually participate. Non-binding surveys, while certainly a relaxing way to wile away a few minutes, do not constitute involvement.