Manufacturing Consent: Selling UNBC Students to the Corporation

Manufacturing Consent: Selling UNBC Students to the Corporation

By Kirk Walker, Volunteer Op-Ed

“Like other businesses, [the media] sell a product to buyers. Their market is advertisers, and the “product” is audiences.” Noam Chomsky

UNBC’s new Food Services Plan functionally acts in the same way mass media sells audiences to advertisers, except that it is students being sold to the corporation. This corporation (Compass Group) is the same corporation that owns Eurest. We are effectively replacing the same incandescent light bulb with another, albeit a lower wattage. If you look at Chartwells’ flashy, well-produced promotional video, “Pulse on Dining,” you will see corporate seduction at it’s best.

Under the veil of buzzwords like community, diversity, and food security, we are being sold, whether we like it or not, a version of the world that is all about profit and revenue. The mandate of UNBC’s Ancillary Services is to generate revenue for the university. The goal of 500 mandatory meal plan “subscribers” (by year five of the plan) will guarantee Chartwells over $2 million in base revenue. I do not know the specifics of the contract, but rest assured UNBC will be generating income from this meal plan scheme. Consider too that Chartwells will also require significant margins in order to make a profit.

Which raises so many questions; why would UNBC not take this venture themselves and retain profits? Shouldn’t the meal plan be optional, so good that it sells itself? I could go on, but why is this plan our only option? I know the idea of creating a cooperative with CNC’s culinary program and having a student run cafeteria was floated around for some time. CNC provides high quality, low cost food to students.

CNC has gone the student route, UNBC the corporate. Ancillary Services had an agenda. The Food Committee started subversively over a year ago. Student engagement was symbolized through the inclusion of student representatives on the committee. The UNBC Food Services blog states that these student representatives were responsible to act as “a conduit for 2-way communication between the working group and the area they are representing.” If the power relationships involved in committee structures are disregarded, and the resources required for such communication—to over 3000 students—are considered, not only was this unfair, it was unrealistic. They did their best to communicate student recommendations, but in the end Ancillary Services knew best. Fortunately, there was headway made in the local, sustainable, and fair trade clauses in the Request for Proposal.

However, is it not ironic that in-depth student consultation and research was so limited in a research institution? I suppose market research is not required when the students are the “product” sold to the Compass Group. With the exception of NUGSS, all campus food services, including the convenience store have been handed to a corporate monopoly.

The launch of the mandatory meal plan next year is first applied only to first year students living on residence. You may not care about food services, or the mandatory meal plan. But don’t expect to be using the cafeteria to study anymore. It will now be the Dining Hall, and unless you have Meal Plan or Flex-cash card, you will not be getting in. The barrier to entry will be at least $10. I would encourage you to enjoy this well-lit, social study space before it disappears into UNBC’s new revenue machine.

While I pity the first year residence student who has to get dressed and walk in -25° weather to get breakfast in the morning, it will not affect me that much either. I choose to dine at the Moose and get my coffee at Degrees. But the first year student on residence does not have the option. The new mandatory meal plan will also include removing kitchenettes in the dorms to replace them with an additional bedroom. We’re going to pack ’em in folks!

Some students saw the kitchens in residence as an attractive feature. It was a factor in the decision process that added weight to their choice to come to UNBC. This new Food Services Plan places UNBC in the same food service ranks of every other university in North America with meal-plans. For a university that positions itself on its unique qualities, one feature that draws students may now be a null point.