A report from last week’s forum.

It was not very well attended. Maybe a hundred or so students showed up. This is probably because they assumed that it would be useless to go and register a protest, since the decision has been already been made.

They were correct in this assumption. Sorry folks, but Greylock and Dodd Dining Halls are ending as we know them after this year. The hammer fell straight from the Trustees on down, it was a question of pure economics and barring some kind of lightning turnaround, this decision is final.

The transition has not been carefully planned or thought out as of yet. The senior staff and Dining Services are relying on a modest increase in accommodations in Whitmans and Driscoll, but aside from that, there is little consensus over how to solve the looming prospect of even longer lines and the fact that Driscoll is already operating at capacity at times. It is hoped that increased hours will flatten the bell curve of student attendance at the remaining facilities, especially during dinner time, but since the time span of attendance is determined by academic or extracurriculars as well that remains to be seen.

NOW for the good news: Dining Services and the senior staff are as freaked out about this as we are. No, that’s really a good thing. This is a hugely unpopular move and nobody knows precisely how the system will end up looking. As such, we, the students of Williams, are wanted and needed in the planning and execution process. Bob Volpi was practically begging for student input during and after the forum. There are things on the table right now that would have never been considered before: the possibility of a teppanyaki station and other options at the new Snack Bar, Dining Services catering for regular events in Dodd and/or Greylock Quad, a comprehensive overhaul of all the menus in tandem with students in the Big Three to ensure higher quality and variety, etc. These are just a few of the ideas that came up in my conversations this evening.

I came into this meeting angry at the lack of transparency and the blatant disregard for cooperation that characterized this decision, and I haven’t changed my feelings about this. Dean Merrill and Steve Klass have promised to release the data on dining hall usage and costs that was used in this process. Better late than never, I guess. That said, there’s a window of opportunity here for Williams to come away with a leaner, better dining system.

To the dozens of students whom I’ve heard complain about the quality of food, the lines, the prices at Snack Bar, the vegan/veggie options or whatever over the last two and a half years: now is your chance to step up. If you don’t want this fiasco to end badly, get involved, open a line to Dining Services or the Deans and come up with some ideas. They will listen. We’re going to set up an extended network of students who are willing to help out with planning and implementation soon, but seriously, take the initiative on your own. I heard enough good suggestions in an hour and a half to make me think that we can do this right if people care enough to get their hands dirty.

Comments:

1) Students interested in fighting this should follow my advice.

2) College Council secretary Beryl Manning-Geist kindly provided a copy of the minutes from last week’s meeting. (Are these posted on-line? What about the minutes from last year? Future students need easy access to this history.)

3) Is there any way that this won’t end in disaster? My first-hand knowledge of Paresky is limited, but it sure was crowded around noon during Winter Study. I have heard that it is similarly crowded now. How are several hundred more students from Greylock and the row houses going to fit?

4) “The hammer fell straight from the Trustees on down” is almost certainly false, or at least giving a false impression to students. The Trustees do not see themselves as running the campus. They would never take it upon themselves to decide to close Greylock. There job is to say, “the budget is $205 million and you can’t spend any more.” If Falk/Administration told the Trustees that Greylock was important but, say, the Bolin Fellows and local charities were not, then Greylock would stay open. But, when push comes to shove, the Administration would rather have students greatly inconvenienced then cut back on items with an indirect, at best, influence on the quality of undergraduate education.

5) Students could win this fight. Will they take the time to do so? I doubt it. Announcing unpopular changes just before finals is every new president’s favorite trick . . . ;-)

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