Coop Robs Students

Pat Kabat '06

I recently lost my ‘Gate card. Without my little plastic abstraction, I have been forced to confront the realities of what appears to be the egregious extortion of Colgate students by a rapacious food service provider.

I live up the hill. Between classes, meetings, interviews, and the capricious Hamilton weather, I consequently spend a great deal of my time there. This afternoon, I found myself ducking into the Coop to grab a bit of brunch before ingesting some more solid fare – reading for my 1:20. As it would happen, a dollop of yogurt with an infant’s handful of granola ran me three dollars.

Now I know expensive. I recently spent a great deal of time in London, and between metropolitan prices and the pound, my pockets bled. But Hamilton is neither blessed by metropolitan status nor cursed with an apocalyptic exchange rate. How, then, can we excuse these prices?

I cannot blame the hard-working employees of Sodexho, who express their sympathy with little wry smiles as they swipe our ‘Gatecards. I think I can, however, plausibly blame management.

It is only with the self-assured, placid and smug security of an up-the-hill monopoly that Sodexho executives can excavate our wallets with cheerily-titled decoys like that of my Yogurt Parfait. And all the while, our little plastic abstractions allow us to maintain fond illusions of fair play and corporate benevolence.

But perhaps I am being unfair. As I accuse Sodexho executives of ignominious greed, I may be blindly and unreasonably rejecting

the possibility that the problem is the much more innocent, though no less painful, spectre of structural incompetence.

Perhaps gross mismanagement, in the form of woefully inadequate attention to the economies of scale, does indeed raise operating overheads to the point at which the dollop of yogurt and stale granola really does cost Sodexho three dollars, allowing for a reasonable expected profit.

The real problem, in that case, is the lack of supervision and oversight. Who holds Sodexho accountable? I mean really accountable, not the farcical “comment” box and internal, Sodexho-managed “improvement” receptors. Who is it, in the University administration, that can deliver an ultimatum: ‘shape up or ship out’? I don’t know, and I’d be willing to bet that most of our students don’t, either. Nor am I aware of mechanisms whereby this could be addressed. Would that Sodexho, like better newspapers and governments concerned with justice, have an ombudsman.

Problems of this nature seem to fall within the province of Student Government, but at the moment their activities are consumed by their own internal reforms. The perennial “campaign” promises of our student elected officers to fix the meal plan, if the conspicuous lack of democratic legitimacy does not preclude the use of the term entirely, are always full of sound and fury but signify nothing.

At this stage, as other Americans did when taxed unfairly by an imperial institution to which they had no practical course of appeal, it seems that I, and other frustrated students, can only resort to the press. I remain hopeful that this problem can be solved in a less bloody fashion.