Excuses not accepted: An open letter to Vice Chancellor Sheehan

Dear Vice Chancellor Sheehan,

The week before spring break, hundreds of students sent emails and left voicemails to ask that Dining Dollars be allowed at student businesses for the 2015-2016 school year. While we appreciate the letter you sent in response to this outpouring of student opinion, we would like to take a moment to directly address some of the points that you made.

(Courtesy of the Student Administration Accountability Coalition)
(Courtesy of the Student Administration Accountability Coalition)

As you wrote, both entities entered into a Memorandum of Understanding seven years ago, with UMass Dining generously allowing the acceptance of YCMP at four student businesses. However, with the addition of Dining Dollars to meal plans this past year, we see an excellent opportunity for significant updates to the MOU.

For student businesses to remain successful as UMass Dining continues to expand and compete, they must be allowed to accept what has become standard currency in our campus economy.

Furthermore, we simply cannot accept the obstacles you mention – increased operating costs due to wage increases and benefits to seasonal (03) employees, cost of living adjustments to current employees, commitments to sustainable food systems, as well as an increase to student fees – as legitimate reasons for why UMass Dining cannot oblige this student request.

Without going into detail about the labor violations and poor practices of UMass Dining, the wage increases and benefits to 03 workers, for which AFSCME is still waiting on the final draft from your office, are three years overdue. Poor prioritization of incorporating these additional operating costs, all while spending millions on renovations over the past couple years is not a convincing argument to exclude Dining Dollars from student businesses.

In response to your note on the Student Advisory Sub-Committee on Dining, we are delighted that there has been such a committed showing of administrators in attendance. In these meetings, UMass Dining gave students the UMass Dining Board Operating Statement for the upcoming year as well as budgeting compiled from the financial subsection of auxiliary services.

Unfortunately, concerned Isenberg School of Management students found the financial information useless for understanding the true financial position of the enterprise. As the primary funders of UMass Dining, students deserve to know exactly where their money is going. Providing us with a complete lack of tangible financial information does not do that.

While there is a face of transparency within these meetings, the trend of secrecy and appeasement that has caused tension between the administration and students for many semesters continues. As a result, many questions we have about where UMass puts students’ fees, beyond basic questions we can ask from the information we do have, like why $365,000 is being spent on consultant services, or half a million on administrative expenditures, haven’t been addressed.

Student requests for specific financial information in these meetings, such as a breakdown of cost increases for students over the past 10 years, have also been ignored.

As students whose payments for meal plans directly finance UMass Dining, we ask again that Dining Dollars be accepted at student-run businesses – Earthfoods Cafe, Greeno Sub Shop, Sylvan Snack Bar and Sweets N’ More – this upcoming academic year, without an increase to student costs. We are confident UMass Dining can thoroughly explore this possibility over the next week and present a feasible plan in its upcoming meeting with the Center for Student Business.

Thank you again for your commitment to student voice and input.

Student Administration Accountability Coalition

SAAC is a group of concerned students and student business customers working to ensure the UMass administration prioritizes student demands.[liveblog]