Debates on CDS Stealing Conceals Weightier IssuesTo the Editors:

I am writing to express my concern about the recent campus discussion of rocketing dining costs, and their relationship to dining hall theft. While I agree that dining hall theft is a pertinent ethical issue, and also agree with president Dye’s comments concerning student unreasonable feelings of entitlement, I think that narrowly focused debates on CDS theft serve to disguise a more relevant issue.
In last week’s Review, Associate Finance VP Ron Watts stated that CDS revenue is routinely used as a source of funding for non dining related programs. These funds, Watts admits, are used to pay for everything from financial aid to facilities costs. Since reading this disclosure, I find it strange that campus dialogue has centered on the comparatively small net loss due to theft.
Bon Appetit operates on a fixed contract, one that presumably takes into account some degree of theft. What Bon Appetit does not take into account, and cannot, is the percentage of dining revenue that the college chooses to siphon off for non-CDS related uses.
Of course, it is still a bit early to accuse the college of duplicity.
The revenue CDS is generating is going back into our college education, defraying tuition hikes or dips into the endowment. However, this back door method of charging students still seems less then honest. First, it masks academic costs as routine dining expenditures, limiting students’ ability to see what they get for their money.
Second, students may have principled objections to Ron Watts statement in the Review that the meal plan needs to produce a gross margin to support all the cost of the college because it’s a part of it. Students might take issue with the idea that any revenue generating college related enterprise -- from the ‘Sco to laundry machines -- should bear the burden which is claimed to be managed by tuition.
Finally, this culinary gerrymandering seems to redistribute college costs in inequitable ways. Assuming, for instance, that OSCA, whose members’ pay a different price for meals than CDSers, is disproportionately comprised of white students, and that the corollary is that a disproportionately large percentage of students of color eat in CDS, then students of color may be the recipients of unfair tuition hikes masquerading as dining costs.
If the college wants to be completely open about how it distributes costs, it should consider charging one comprehensive fee for tuition, housing and dining. Not only would all students then share the financial burden of tuition in an equitable and visible way, but the college would not have to resort to yearly Reslife revenue tweaking. For example, if the college were to institute a comprehensive fee, the administration would not have to convert residence hall lounges into dorm rooms to raise money. I doubt if anyone prefers an itemized tuition that compels them to live in a hastily converted smoking lounge, solely so that the college may generate revenue from housing instead of tuition.
I do not mean to imply that the college is cheating students in bad faith, that CDS theft doesn’t contribute to rising dining costs, or that one group on campus is the sole recipient of these costs. However, I do think that dining hall theft dialogue debates an issue of principle, a paper tiger which may be concealing much more substantial price hikes. If Oberlin students want to stand morally pure against rising dining costs, they should stop stealing. But, if the history of theft is any guide, it would be unwise to forgo very real debates about our money until such a utopian ideal is achieved.

–Tobias Smith
College Junior

September 27
October 4

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