Hungry patrons form long lines outside of the only eatery around. They clutch their identifications tightly and speak in hushed tones. The uniformed inspector lets them in one at a time, allowing them to shuffle into the sponsored dining area.
It’s not a scene from Eastern Europe in the 1980s, but instead in Atherton Union. Butler University enforces a virtual monopoly of food services on campus.
The administration should allow more flexibility in the school’s current policy. While the current system has the advantage of not appearing to play favorites—outside of Aramark’s contractual protection—it hurts all participants.
If the melodrama above is confusing, read on.
As The Butler Collegian reported last week, Butler enforces a no-solicitation policy. This applies even to businesses handing out free food at non-sponsored events, said Irene Stevens, dean of student life.
All businesses must be invited to campus by an organization, and that invitation must be approved by the PuLSE office. Aramark’s contract also prohibits any other official food vendors on campus.
Stevens said there is no push to revisit the policy.
In all honesty, The Collegian may have already written all there is to write about campus dining.
But it is one thing to favor one company with business—PepsiCo Inc. over Coca Cola Enterprises, Inc., for example. It is quite another to build a policy around protecting only one corporation’s interests.
As Stevens said, the solicitation was enacted to protect students from disreputable salespersons.
Obviously, the university’s intentions were well-placed. Protecting students is a major responsibility of the administration, and BUPD does their best to turn away solicitors that don’t have students best interests in mind.
But when they institute a policy that forces legitimate businesses away from the campus, they go too far.
Students will find ways to choose, and that means leaving campus. The university cannot enforce a monopoly of safely approved vendors all over the city, so in the end the policy only serves to hurt businesses that specialize in the customer’s convenience.
The food trucks offer a brilliant solution to some of the other issues that hurt Butler’s neighborhood.
Because the university is relatively small, it is not feasible for businesses to open in the surrounding area.
They would receive almost no customers for several months of the year.
Changing the current policy would not cripple Aramark, which is still the sole provider of meal plans on campus. Instead, a change offers nearby food vendors as an addition to the campus dining options.
This is a university that prides itself on both being a strong business and liberal arts institution. If Bulldogs are going to be citizens of the world they currently live in, they should be exposed to norms of the “outside” world—like competition between businesses.
And I don’t think anyone would consider Scout’s Treats disreputable.