Student expectations of university dining are unreasonably high

Andrew Sciascia
Connector Editor

For years it has been said, by employers, alumni, faculty, staff and the student body alike, that one thing that truly sets UMass Lowell apart from other world-class centers of higher education is the unentitled attitude of its students.

The Open Forum on Campus Dining this past week was, however, an example to the contrary. This is not to say that UMass Lowell students are not the hard working, no-nonsense bunch they have touted themselves as. Bu, the annual forum, which gives students a chance to voice their concerns with Aramark and campus dining, was a sad commentary on the entitled attitude that many students have adopted on the modern university campus.

Many of the comments and concerns voiced by the students were lofty and unreasonable, and the criticisms of the campus dining experience Aramark provides were, for the most part, anything but constructive.

In fact, it may bear credence to remind the student body that what makes UMass Lowell great is the hard-nosed, unentitled attitude we boast. Entitled and unreasonable is not a good look for us, and we should keep that in mind when we discuss our campus dining services.

With Support Our Students (SOS) cards at the center of each table asking students to donate a meal swipe to their food-insecure peers, a handful of students voiced petty complaints and murmured insults and whiny remarks to their neighbors in regards to Aramark.

Complaints ranged from repeatedly accusations of the floors and tables not being clean enough, which could be solved by students cleaning up after themselves in the mildest capacity and not haphazardly swiping food onto the floor at all times, to lack of hours, which would of course result in higher meal cost if adjusted.

Another complaint was voice “on behalf of UMass Lowell’s clubs” by a single representative member of one of UMass Lowell’s 250 clubs. The student took issue with the cost of having a club event catered by Aramark, disregarding the ability of clubs and organizations to apply for a grant for such things through Student Government Association or the fact that when student clubs have events catered, the mess they leave is not one that they must clean; university staff have that responsibility.

All this coupled with repeated complaints about dining halls lacking a mass of vegan, and other restrictive dietary choice, options. All of which ignore the fact that Aramark and campus dining provide a number of avenues for students who make specific dietary choices to reach out and have their needs met; but that would require some sort of effort by those students who have particular requests.

Also worthy of note, and possibly most important, is the fact that of the 114 places of higher learning in Massachusetts, ranks UMass Lowell 15th in dining. Of the 14 schools that rank ahead of us, 13 are private institutions.

The only public university ranked higher in dining in the 2018 Niche report is the University of Massachusetts Amherst, whom students frequently compare to when the speak ill of Aramark’s dining services.

Of course, Amherst being a part of the UMass system leads to frequent comparison by UMass students at other locations. But it is important to look at the numbers before we lay complaints at the feet of Aramark.

UMass Amherst’s “DC Basic” meal plan, which offers only 224 meal swipes for the semester with a $2,698 price tag, costs $282 more than our “Platinum” unlimited meal plan. The average difference in price between comparative meal plans at UMass Lowell and Amherst is $661.

The reality is simple. In an age where college students are not looking to see their pockets emptied any further by bills for higher education, they must be reasonable in their expectations of services.

We attend a public university that offers a world-class education in a safe environment. We are offered numerous services and amenities, and we should be thankful.

Multiple dining halls in immaculate condition, serving 5-star dishes with multiple options for every dietary want and need, is a beyond unreasonable request; even if the student body is willing to see a nearly $700 spike in the price of meal plans, and an unlimited plan that costs upwards of $3000 dollars.

We get a terrific service for the money we spend. Not to mention Aramark’s willingness to donate several million dollars to university efforts to add and beautify existing dining halls.

Of course, there are a handful of things that could be improved in our dining system. This is true of all things; there is always room for improvement. But if the administration is willing to field our concerns and work with us and our food service provider to improve campus dining we need to introduce criticism that is constructive. We need to measure our dining services by a reasonable metric.

If administration is willing to work with us and we are unwilling to be reasonable, we can kiss our reputation goodbye. We are going to start looking like every other band of entitled, bratty college students.

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  1. A student said:

    Some expectations are not unreasonable. Take a look at UMass Amherst’s Berk dining, which is regarded as one of the best dining halls in the country. That’s in addition to UMass Amherst being recognized for best campus food in the country (among public AND private schools) for two years straight (2016, 2017). Berk’s open from 11AM to 12AM every day and has several late night events (including DJ’s and others), especially on weekends.

    It doesn’t make sense to justify the shortcomings by comparing prices, when Amherst is probably more expensive due to the reasons above (best campus food, better dining halls). If UML was offering similar things, prices would naturally go up here as well. If keeping a dining hall open late inside a residential building is that much of a problem, then perhaps UML should build a dedicated dining hall outside of the dorm buildings (similar to Berk).

    As for the $700 tuition spike you speak of, it’s not like we’re doing any better right now. Tuition has been going up every single year for the past few years and the reason is always given as “tight budget.” If the budget is that tight, then why are all the UMass administrators repeatedly getting massive salary bumps? Our tuition is already going up year-after-year to help raise the salaries of these administrators without any benefit to us, so why not add a couple hundred more to it and actually get a superior experience that benefits the students?

    There is a lot of room for improvement and instead of straight up denying it, it’s better if we work towards improving it.

  2. Brian said:

    I wish students would be more critical of the lack of safe pedestrian and bike infrastructure on Lowell streets. Where are the curb extensions and metal bollards at heavily traveled pedestrian intersections? Where are the protected bike lanes linking the campuses and Inn and Conference Center?

    If Lowell wants to be a true college town UML needs to work with the city to make getting around easier and safer. This would lessen the need for UML to build more parking and reduce congestion for all of us.

    Getting to your favorite dining hall would be that much easier too!

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