Last Wednesday’s e-mail announcing the closure of Greylock and Dodd dining halls sparked little less than outrage among students across campus. Certainly, there were some who offered pragmatic words, but most initial reactions ranged from the sting of betrayal to suspicion about conspiracy theories. No one was shocked by these reactions, and it seems likely that Dean Karen Merrill and Vice President for Operations Steve Klass expected them, considering they had already arranged for a forum to be held the next evening. Students’ responses are not only unsurprising, but also wholly justifiable. It is well within our rights to be concerned about things like the potentially frenetic atmosphere of the three remaining dining halls, the cold winter walk from Garfield to Paresky and the loss of pleasant, homey interactions with Dodd and Greylock staff members.
Yet despite the pain and anger sparked, these difficult decisions were the right ones. When faced with the task of drastically cutting an already significantly pared-down budget, senior administrators looked in the right places. Their priorities are in order, in terms of spending. Expenditures like generous financial aid and reasonable salaries for faculty and staff are more important to the academic mission of the College than maintaining dining halls that operate at low proportions of their capacity.
However, this does not absolve the senior administrators of the shortcomings in how the decision was handled. The e-mail, signed by only Klass and Merrill, stands in stark contrast to announcements naming long lists of committee members involved in projects such as the Neighborhood Review Committee’s reports. Moreover, the utter lack of public discussion about this important student life – and staff life – issue stands against the openness and community-driven decisions that the College ostensibly affirms. After allowing students seats on the initial ad hoc budget committee, student input has dropped off precipitously, giving way to many large-scale financial decisions that have been made by a small number of higher-ups. Giving students a voice in student life decisions is only fair. No amount of data on dining hall usage can replicate the insight that student voices can offer into the campus experience. Senior administrators were in error when they made a major decision without the input of the people their decision was going to affect.
The reason for the closeted process given by Merrill and Klass at the forum, that staff members would have been concerned about their jobs throughout a drawn-out discussion, is valid. Protecting peace of mind is a worthwhile goal – but not at the expense of offering the community a chance to express opinions and concerns. Informing staff members of the decision mere hours before the campus-wide e-mail came out was hardly a better option. The changes will affect staff members most of all, as rearranging their schedules without keeping their shift preferences in mind will greatly affect their personal and family lives. For an institution that extends the Children’s Center hours once a month for faculty meetings, this lack of thoughtfulness regarding employees and their families is surprising. Shouldn’t staff members have had the opportunity to voice their concerns prior to a decision, rather than being abruptly told about it? Allowing people to have their voices heard – even if the ultimate decision doesn’t satisfy everyone – is the best way to pre-empt discontentment with any process. In short, leaving so many voices out of such a big decision is unacceptable and, as budgets inevitable continue to be cut, it is scary to think of what else could be cut without our input.
Nonetheless, the decision has been made. Now, students, staff and administrators must work together to make the best of a less-than-ideal situation. As students were not consulted earlier, their voices are all the more important now, and they should channel frustration into solutions. This campus of creative, knowledgeable minds must make the next month one of intensive planning to avoid the many pitfalls that will go hand-in-hand with the loss of two dining halls. Ideas that have already been put forth – such as increased and improved Grab ‘n’ Go options, lengthened hours and comfortable, revamped spaces in the ’82 Grill and on the upper level of Driscoll – are great starts to meeting the goal of an ideal dining hall experience.
Nonetheless, there are other problems more difficult to address. What can be done for Garfield and Agard residents to make up for the long walk to the nearest dining hall? How can the valued, friendly interactions with dining hall staff members be replicated in three busier dining halls? How can Whitmans’, which was never meant to serve as “centralized dining,” adapt to a large influx of students? Administrators will have to look closely at Paresky to see what about Whitmans’ itself can be reorganized. In addition, the issue of altering class scheduling is something that the College should look at more closely.
We will all have to make adjustments. Next fall is going to be different, and not everyone will be happy. But in this case, our best bet is to work constructively with what we have left.