Setting the table

Transparency, responsiveness should be guiding principles for the Global Dining Initiative

By Maroon Editorial Board

If you haven’t heard of the U of C’s Global Dining Initiative (GDI) before now, you aren’t alone. The GDI, which is currently reviewing campus dining options and helping select vendors to run the dining halls and cafés, has maintained a low profile since it began last fall. There’s no website, and besides those students involved with Student Government (SG) and the Inter-House Council (IHC), few of us have heard the first word about the GDI.

Although most of the GDI’s planning has been behind the scenes until now, leaders of the GDI did take questions from student representatives during last Wednesday’s College Council (CC) meeting. Going on the record with the CC is an excellent way to begin informing students about the GDI, and we hope that meeting will be the first of many open to students not directly involved with the Initiative.

Since nothing inflames the passions of college students quite like discussions of the food we’re served, keeping the GDI’s work public whenever possible is just smart PR, and it will strengthen the results of the group’s work, too. Surveys and focus groups—which the GDI has used to generate student feedback until now—are helpful, but publishing the GDI’s results and plans will encourage feedback from more students with a far broader base of knowledge, and help foresee troubles before they arise.

Past that, making clear that the GDI is interested in feedback from all students would mark an important departure from precedent. Students have raised innumerable concerns about Aramark and Sugar Plum Cafés over the years, but perhaps most frustrating is the sense that campus dining is beyond their control, and that no matter how much they complain, not much actually changes.

We get that feeling, for example, when the same dish appears on the buffet week after week, though no one seems to eat it and we fill the comment box with ideas for replacements. And we felt that way in 2008 and 2009, when the unlimited dining plan was implemented with only minimal changes to address student concerns about cost and logistics.

If there were ever a time to let students know that their input counts when it comes to campus dining, it’s now. The GDI should make it a priority to speak openly with all students while selecting a new vendor. It should look for companies that will be attentive to student feedback throughout the course of their contracts, and will continually use our ideas to shape and reshape their offerings.

Students, after all, are the only people on the campus required to purchase meal plans, and they make up a large portion of those who shop at cafés as well. If the GDI is actually going to revamp campus dining, it’s only fair that it do so while giving students all the information they need to speak their minds about their stomachs.

The Maroon Editorial Board consists of the Editor-in-Chief and Viewpoints Editors.