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Why Foco Prices Are So Loco

Cookhelper $18.26 hour.jpgThe D had another good editorial on Friday, this one noting the student ripoff that is Dartmouth Dining Services (DDS). The piece began with a radical idea — “Dartmouth should serve its students’ interests.” — and then it listed DDS’s flaws: monopoly power (it “forces students to buy mandated dining plans even if they live off-campus or in College-owned apartments”); expensive meal plans (a 160-swipe meal plan runs $2,230: $13.94/meal!); exorbitant individual prices (“A pack of four Udi’s gluten free baked goods can be bought for $7 in a grocery store, but DDS’s Novack Cafe sells just one of the four pre-packaged muffins included for $3.55. A bottled Odwalla smoothie sells at DDS for $4.75, but that same bottle costs just $2.94 from other retailers. A bottle of Honest Tea can be bought for $1.29 or less, but at Dartmouth, the drink costs $3.50.”) and awful service (“Lines are growing appallingly long at DDS locations. It is now not uncommon to see students lined up almost to McNutt Hall from the doors of ‘53 Commons [Foco]. The overcrowded Collis Cafe remains all but unnavigable during peak hours. During dinner and lunch times, the Courtyard Cafe suffers from lines that can take up to 40 minutes…”).

However the Editors didn’t isolate the cause of the problem. They should. The College is not having DDS serve students’ interests because it has decided that the staff is more important than students (where have you heard that assertion before?). Look at the above want ad from Page G1 of this past Sunday’s Valley News. Wages of $18.26/hour ($38,000/year for a 40-hour workweek) for a cookhelper or a dishwasher are about 50% over the local wage scale for food service workers. Given that the median per capita income in New Hampshire is $34,691 — the fifth best in the United States — $38,000/year is luxurious pay for an unskilled job requiring only a high school education.

Then add to that figure the fact that starting DDS employees receive over five weeks of time off each year — two or sometimes three weeks is the local maximum — along with full family health benefits at a minimal cost, and you see why DDS has to gouge students to break even. (I have no current figures on DDS’s overall profitability, but six years ago erstwhile DDS Director Dave Newlove boasted on his LinkedIn page that DDS was making an annual profit of over $1.0 million).

A back of the envelope calculation show DDS workers taking in compensation and benefits that total well over double what local workers in food service earn.

It should go without saying that not all institutions of higher learning shovel money out the door like the College does. The Chronicle of Higher Education has a wage/salary database that lists food service workers at research universities as earning $25,894 /year — about $12.45/hour. And not all research universities are located in low-cost New Hampshire:

CHE Worker Salaries.jpg

Paid Vacation Days.jpgIf we compare DDS vacation time to the average accorded to American workers, the craziness becomes even clearer. Compared to the figures at right, a DDS employee with ten years of service receives six weeks of time off (paid time off, vacation time and Xmas-New Year’s break), not counting legal holidays.

To use NYU Professor John Haidt’s formulation, is the College’s telos education or social justice? Do we want to grossly overpay Dartmouth’s workers compared to the wages and benefits earned by their friends and neighbors in the Upper Valley? And in doing so, do we accept that such a policy will hugely inflate the cost of education and deprive worthy academic areas of funding (like faculty salaries, for example)?

Such an allocation of resources might reflect your politics, but not mine. I see Dartmouth as an institution of higher learning where a fine education will provide benefits for the whole world. Not one penny more than is necessary should be spent on functions ancillary to the educational effort.

Perhaps you see the College as a welfare agency? Just like the Hanlon administration.

Addendum: In my own local business no employee has ever negotiated a wage increase by citing the wages and benefits paid out by Dartmouth. Everyone in the Upper Valley views the College as a cloud cuckooland that rational enterprises can’t possibly emulate.

Addendum: A student writes in:

A few weeks ago, I emailed DDS to ask about petitioning my way out of the meal plan requirement. I live in an on-campus house with a fully-equipped kitchen, which I use often, and from past experience know that I’m capable of feeding myself on $200/month (even in Hanover).

DDS’s response was very polite, but started with this gem: “For Dartmouth’s dining program to be successful, all students enrolled in classes and/or living on-campus or in Dartmouth-affiliated undergrad housing must participate in a dining plan.”

I don’t think that’s true, and even if it were, I’d still resent the hell out of Dartmouth making me spend an extra $500/month on food. (And I’m on the *cheapest* meal plan!)

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