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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Choose persuasion over edict

Published: October 18, 2013
Section: Editorials

This semester, a new administrative rule came into effect that requires all student groups using food in club events to purchase it from Sodexo. There are several exemptions to this rule that students may be eligible for after filing a waiver. If the purchase is under $100, the price of the food is cheaper than that provided by Sodexo or if a cultural theme for the event mandates food that Sodexo cannot provide, clubs may apply for an exemption days before the transaction is made.

Many club leaders were angered and confused by the policy. There was no student participation in the authoring of this policy. This resulted in a rule which is numb to student needs. For example, many clubs decide to purchase food minutes before they order, not days. Sodexo cannot replicate the robust variety of food that local vendors sell.

The reasoning behind the change was unclear in the email announcing it, which club leaders received from Director of Student Activities Stephanie Grimes. Many students assumed that the policy was instituted in an effort to coerce students to increase spending on university goods, regardless of their preferences. To club leaders, it seemed like an added layer of bureaucracy that the university instituted to supplement its own cash flows.

Ask a Brandeis administrator why this policy was put into effect and you will hear the argument that the new rule reflects our mission of social justice. Some administrators believe that the student clubs have spent F-Board funds highly inefficiently and that drastic changes need to be implemented.

We suggest an alternative method of student engagement: Talk to us. No attempt was ever made to make students aware of excess spending on food. Sodexo, like its predecessor Aramark, does not provide menus, so if they do offer higher value than local options, club leaders are unlikely to be aware of it.

This echoes another recent policy which was also abruptly instituted with little student engagement. Administrators created a policy that required club apparel to feature the title “Brandeis.” Similarly, students were frustrated with the apparently arbitrary constraint, which seemed to market the school at the expense of the creative discretion of the clubs. Similarly, there was little or no attempt to reform club decisions through communications between club leaders and administrators before the new rule was instituted.

Students aren’t complaining because they enjoy it; clubs want a justifiable explanation for the policy changes. People are much more likely to support a policy and assist in its implementation if they have a solid reason behind their efforts. We ask for a dialogue that allows both students and administrators to offer their voices and for a chance to learn from each other before widespread decisions are made.

If the administration wants to change club behavior, it should attempt to engage club leaders in a respectful and constructive manner. It should persuade them to change through logic and reason. Rather than exerting influence by persuasion and discussion, administrators have chosen to govern through edict. This tendency has resulted in student resentment not just for various administrators, but for the university itself. The school would be wise to more effectively utilize a communication infrastructure to attempt to moderate club behavior, rather than abruptly issue new policies without explanation.