No student input on bulk YCMP sales

No student input on bulk YCMP sales

By Alex Major

UMass Dining’s bulk sales program will not be in effect this year. Those students who haven’t used their YCMP swipes by December 14th will not be able to use them, as before, but now the swipes also can’t be exchanged for excess inventory.

According to the Daily Collegian, Director David Eichstaedt of Retail Dining Services, who selected the policy, cited the logistical difficulty of parking near the construction zone, the unpleasantness of trying to eat at Blue Wall during bulk sales, and a mission to promote health and sustainability which didn’t jibe with buying dozens of 20-oz bottles of soda.

These are reasonable points. That said the announcement of program discontinuance smells a little like a tax (or an increase in swipe prices), and feels like theft. I suspect a large portion of the student body will be hard-pressed not to take it that way.

In an effort to lessen the blow, UMass Dining, Eichstaedt reminds us, has also announced this change previously. I vaguely remember seeing a notice to this effect somewhere as I walked through the Campus Center. The money saved by this policy change could have purchased more than a few signs and three to five social media intern hours.

UMass Dining provides excellent food, and its funding arrangement makes sense for students and the university. Paying large amounts of money up front helps plan for an entire semester’s worth of programming. Meal plans are reasonable for all on-campus students, for whom space is at a premium.

And notably, the flexibility provided by the meal plan funding mechanism is quite convenient. Sometimes when we swipe we’re paying $10 for a three or four hour study session / buffet; sometimes, when there’s no time for that, we’re paying $10 for a bowl of cereal. Some of you may be paying $10 for a dining set and food for a week, which brings me to my next point.

The lesson here may be that it all works out, so you shouldn’t worry about how much you get, because what does it all matter, anyway? It’s just on you to be more responsible.

Or, the lesson could be that other people will take advantage of you without a second thought, so you should take advantage of them without a second thought, consequences be damned. The lesson is that perverse incentives are everywhere and, well, nothing much can be done, so why bother talking about it? What can one person do?

That’s beginning to look like a decent lesson for modern American life. This week a judge in Detroit ruled that, through bankruptcy proceedings, it no longer has to worry about paying the pensions of its municipal workers.

The funny thing we sometimes forget about pensions is that they are delayed paychecks. The economics literature describes how workers give up money during healthy years in exchange for economic security later. When that pay – on which you justifiably rely, because, by right, it’s yours – disappears, something must be done.

Collective action is hard. Detroit has been the textbook case of suburban flight, where the rich exited a decaying institution rather than working to fix it, and the poor, lacking both the resources to leave and adequate civil institutions to do something about it, stayed and suffered.

Any one person or institution will tell you that there’s nothing they can do; and it looks like “If you don’t like it, you can leave” is increasingly the American way. If we can raise our voices, it is only to complain, as two students did in the Collegian article.

That’s not how we should run this society.

One idea for a fix to this arrangement would be to conduct bulk sales throughout the semester, inventory permitting, at the discretion of the manager.

Whether or not that arrangement makes sense is none of my business, because apparently none of these decisions are my business.

The crucial issue is that there is no real, significant say for most people here. The money is pooled but there’s no democratic access, no participation in the budgeting process, and no student voice.

Students are trying. People’s Market, a cooperative run and managed entirely by students, which serves healthy and vegan cuisine, is not allowed to accept YCMP payments, for opaque and mysterious reasons. Efforts to start more student-run businesses, which have historically been very successful, have somehow been stymied by the claim that there is no space. This while we build at a breakneck pace.

This should be a broader conversation with more participants, and it is in the best interest of students for the people who are holding on to our money to start this conversation.

Alex Major is a Governor of the Undergraduate Economics Club and can be reached at [email protected]