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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

On-campus dining leaves much to be desired

Published: October 26, 2012
Section: Opinions

Each year Brandeis spends copious amounts of money on events, faculty and facilities, yet when I walk into Usdan at 7:05 p.m. on a Saturday night expecting dinner, my only options are the slim remainders of wilted salads and week-old turkey sandwiches on the far side of the C-Store.

And, if I’ve already used a “meal” that day any time after 4:45 p.m., I will be prohibited from using another “meal” for the rest of the evening.

Brandeis is home to 3,500 students, many of whom are required by the university to be on a meal plan. This means that a large portion of the student population relies on campus food to fill their stomachs every day of the week. But the students had better be quick, for campus dining frequently closes at inconvenient times, such as Saturday nights. Does the university think that all students are done eating by 6 p.m. on a Saturday night so that we can curl up in bed by 8 p.m. and be ready for an early breakfast the next morning? Surely, this cannot be the case because most of Usdan is closed until approximately noon on Sundays.

It’s no wonder Asia Wok knows every single dorm building on campus better than our own tour guides and why some first-years think that “Tiki House” is somewhere near Slosberg. Frankly, even when dining is available, the amount of time it takes to order and receive a delivery from Asia Wok is faster than the amount of time it takes for Quiznos, especially during rush hour lunch periods, to lethargically place, piece by piece, every individual slice of tomato and lettuce on your chicken sub.

I’m not sure if there is anyone at Brandeis who doesn’t already realize this (but apparently there must be since we have yet to fix this problem), but it is technically impossible to use all 21 Meals on the 21 Meal Plan! Why is it called the 21 Meal Plan if there are not 21 mealtimes in a Brandeis week? As it turns out, there are only two meal times offered on Sunday, limiting the week to only 20 mealtimes total.

I spent my first year at Brandeis attempting to find a loophole that would allow me to eat 21 meals a week without having to resort to eating Sherman roasted potatoes and pentagonal turkey burgers. My mission was unsuccessful, however, and hundreds of meals later (but no more than 20 a week) I opted for the “Combo” plan, which is still not a good option due to its insubstantial amount of meals and points.

My primary issue with Brandeis’ dining plan is that they are blatantly profit-oriented. Yes, all businesses should aim to maximize their profits, but when you have a company that works hand-in-hand with a university and essentially has a monopoly over the food establishment of the student population, they should be monitored to assure that they do not abuse their power.

Unfortunately, at Brandeis this is not the case. Regardless of Aramark’s business model, it is still Brandeis’ responsibility to make sure that its students (many of whom are paying over $200,000 to get their degree) have easy and affordable access to food.

As a top-ranked international liberal arts university, Brandeis’ primary objective is to optimize their students’ experiences—including classes, facilities, sports and, of course, food. It is therefore Brandeis’ responsibility to provide its students with food at reasonable prices and at reasonable hours during the day, which in this case requires negotiating the prices and hours that Aramark assigns to our dining halls. In reality, however, the prices of many foods in Usdan have been raised and various foods have been deemed exempt from counting toward “meals,” an attempt to push students toward using more of their points.

Perhaps you disagree with me and believe that Brandeis does not have an obligation to provide its students with guacamole-compatible quesadillas, which don’t require an extra dollar for the one teaspoon of guacamole that presumably costs Aramark $10 for the hundred pounds of it they bought in bulk and conveniently packaged into pathetically small containers.

Even if you somehow believe this is justified, how can one justify that you can’t buy a large 11-inch Quiznos sub using a “meal,” yet you can buy two small five-inch subs on a “meal,” which together cost more than a large sub? An 11-inch Quiznos sub costs $7.50. You cannot purchase this on a “meal;” you must use points. Two 5-inch subs (10 inches total) costs $10. You are able to buy this on a meal, yet it will go over the assigned dollar amount of a “meal” and you will have to use points. This is just one example of the nonsensical dining we are subjected to as students.

Unfortunately, this problem affects more than just our satisfaction at meal times. As it turns out, Brandeis’ lack of Class-A dining is part of what has prevented us from earning a top-30 ranking. While schools like Emory and NYU offer versatile, affordable options for food, our proudest food establishment is Einsteins, which, like our other dining halls, is closed at unusual hours and often has lines of students piling out into the bookstore.

If school rankings only concerned academics, we’d be golden. As we know, however, and as Brandeis is presumably aware of yet still negligent toward, assets like dining impact these rankings. Student life and quality of student living experience make a difference.

The conclusion for students is not ideal yet it is simple: Don’t put yourself on a meal plan unless you have to, and if you do, opt for the least expensive plan while utilizing cash as a backup. You’ll save a lot in the long run. And maybe if administrators open their eyes and step up to their responsibility of providing convenient, affordable dining, I will be able to go into Usdan at 8 p.m. on a Friday night, use only one “meal,” and be able to get what I want.
Maybe there might be some free guacamole on the side. Or, at the very least, priced at less than a dollar.