May 15, 2007

Keep Coke on campus—for now

The Maroon strongly urges the Campus Dining Advisory Board to vote against kicking Coke off campus at its upcoming end-of-quarter meeting.

Students can argue all day about which soda brand is the greatest villain; over the past few years, the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment has found that nearly a dozen soda brands contain potentially dangerous levels of pesticide. In the ’90s, Pepsi faced allegations of human-rights violations by establishing bottling plants in militant Burma. Keeping Coke on campus allows student consumers to choose for themselves the lesser among the purported evils of soft drink corporations.

The “choice” to kick Coke off campus is not the preference of a clear majority of students. A petition of 1,108 signatures was collected by the anti-Coke campaign, but available data shows that Coke products claim a 55-percent majority in dining hall soda consumption. As such, it is not yet evident that kicking Coke off campus reflects anything more than the political agenda of a vocal minority.

Such a politically motivated business demand as kicking Coke off campus would also violate the Kalven Report, a document that presents a problematic gray area for the anti-Coke campaign. The Kalven Report would condone Coke’s removal only as a business decision reflecting student preferences. The guidelines do not allow the removal of Coke for expressly political reasons. Unlike the removal of Taco Bell in 2003, which ultimately hinged on considerations of the fast-food chain from a business perspective, anti-Coke activists are straightforward about their intent to boot Coke from campus solely to make a political statement.

While the allegations against Coke are serious, the proposal to eliminate Coke from campus dining facilities is ultimately premature and overlooks viable alternatives. In particular, the Maroon encourages the anti-Coke group to refocus its efforts on advocacy for a personal boycott of the beverage in students’ everyday lives that extends beyond the limited sphere of campus dining consumption.

If anti-Coke activists have been as successful in turning students against Coke as they claim to be, the soft drink’s consumption numbers will fall below sustainable levels, compelling campus dining officials to reconsider the brand’s availability for business rather than for political reasons. Let’s allow students to make the choice with their wallets instead of using politics to justify making that choice for them.