Give Us Our Dining Trays!

Hamza Usmani

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The September 26th issue of The Middlebury Campus ran a story on the decision of Dining Services to remove trays from the dining halls. In that article, they quoted Mathew Biette, the head of dining services, as saying that the decision to take out the trays was made ‘swiftly’ because some students told him that if he put the decision up for discussion, it would never be implemented. Well, that’s obvious.

Dining Services is not exactly a corporation—and hence their primary objective should not be profit maximization. They are service providers, and their main aim should be to provide the best possible service to their patrons.

If we don’t take drastic steps to save the environment, we will regret our inaction in the future. However, environmental action needs to be done intelligently. It is very easy to propose that cars should be banned because they produce pollution, but it takes some creativity and intelligence to figure out a way to save the environment while also not destroying people’s lifestyle by denying them their basic means of transportation. If we make a list of things that produce pollution, we’d never be able to stop. Even the computer that I’m using right now produces pollution. But would I do away with it in order to help the environment? No, because it creates a very insignificant amount of pollution, and removing it would seriously impair my lifestyle.

If the dining service honchos claim that removing trays from dining halls is going to help the environment, they need to prove it. Please don’t tell me that the math they have presented qualifies as proof. In fact, I would think of this as an insult to the Middlebury College students. If they are listing reasons like ‘removing trays would reduce water spillage in the kitchen and less people would fall’ it just means that they themselves are not convinced about the strength of their basic reason to take the trays out. If they are so convinced, they should be willing to answer our questions.

There has been some whispering going on that the real reason to remove trays from the dining halls was to cut costs, and environmental sustainability was used as a cover because we all know it is not “in fashion” to question anything environmental. If this indeed is true, I’d say the Dining Services played their game really poorly. By using environmentalism as a cover-up, they not only put their own credibility at stake but also potentially tarnished the integrity of the environmental cause. If Dining Services were low on budget and they were finding it hard to run the operation with the amount of funding that they had, they should have taken the students into confidence about that. The students, who are interested in having a good dining experience, and who pay a college fee which increases by $2000-$2500 every year would definitely have raised their voices to help the dining services.

Consider this: a regular student who paid a $44,000 comprehensive fee last year was presented with a dining service that offered trays. The same student, after paying $46,910 this year, is now getting a dining experience without trays. If that student comes to know that despite him or his parents paying a higher fee this year, the college dining services is having financial problems, he would want to do something about that because he’d be concerned.

Here I need to reiterate why Dining Services have less of a right to remove trays from dining halls than they think they have. Fortunately or unfortunately, if one is living on campus it is impossible to opt out of the meal-plan. In other words, Dining halls are a student’s primary source of food. Yet another way to phrase this would be saying that students are stuck with the dining halls. So given this, if the dining halls decide to remove a service that students were enjoying before, the students cannot just act like ‘consumers’ in a market economy—they can’t just boycott eating at the dining halls and look for alternatives. This is the reason why I said earlier that dining halls are not commercial enterprises but are rather service providers. They are here to serve the student body, and all their actions—whether aimed at cutting costs or benefiting the environment—need to be sanctioned by the students. Otherwise it would essentially be a breach of contract.

I personally tried to contact the dining managers and ask them the rationale for removing trays. Unfortunately, the crux of the response that I got was that the decision to remove trays was ‘firm and is unlikely to change.’ There are two problems with this attitude. First, they are not open to any sort of dialogue. Second, they are acting stubborn about this, which is odd for a place like Middlebury. Everyone remembers what happened with the college logo episode: the college came up with a new logo without consulting students, the students protested, the college officials maintained their stance that the new logo is good and change takes time to get accepted, the students gave their arguments and the college officials realized that perhaps the students were correct. If the college can revise its decision about the logo, what makes Dining Services think they are infallible?

In the end, another point that I’d like to raise is that the dining services would be unable to provide examples from any peer institution of dining halls running without trays. Even cheap fast food restaurants have trays; the restaurants which do not have trays are the ones where there are people to wait the tables. An eatery with a buffet arrangement simply has to provide trays to save the hassle of making multiple trips and handling more stuff than they could handle.

The fact of the matter is that we are worse off than before, even though we are paying more. What’s worse is that the stated benefit of taking away something we enjoyed, in this case (environmental sustainability) remains dubious, which is quite a shame.

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3 Responses to “Give Us Our Dining Trays!”


  1. 1 Dave December 9, 2007 at 2:02 am

    The very best part of this is when Mr. Usmani add that the dining halls are not a business; their purpose is to provide for the students and cater to them. With the college as rich as it is, it does not make much sense that they would need to cut costs anywhere at all. Indeed, if even one kid misses the trays, they should return. After all, it’s one thing if the students of an institution complain because there is something they want that isn’t there, but in this case, the thing the want WAS there– it got taken away from them for clouded reasons.

  2. 2 In mourning December 9, 2007 at 7:04 pm

    Dave wrote: “If even one kid misses the trays, they should return”

    I’m sure I could find some people that miss fascism, and some people that miss the free labor of slavery – if Dave were in charge, we’d be living in a black-shirted, slave-owning state.

    What is going on here? Why should anyone “miss” trays? I miss my grandpa who died and my friend who passed away tragically the first year of college. But this is not about my eternal self-pity.

    This is about your self-delusion that you had an emotional attachment to trays and that the decision to not give them to you (and wash them for you) every single meal somehow constitutes an injustice, or a tragedy in some way.


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