After a whole semester of the new OneCard policy at the dining halls, it is clear that the new rules implemented in September 2010 were designed not in the interests of the students—the paying customers of the dining halls—but for the convenience of Dining Service administrators.
For those unfamiliar with the new policy, it stipulates that "students are required to present their Bowdoin OneCard for all Polar Point and OneCard Plan purchases at Smith Union Dining operations and for Dining Hall meal access."
In previous years, students who misplaced their card could simply provide their Bowdoin ID number in order to access the dining hall.
While the new policy still allows students who have lost their card to provide their ID numbers, it also requires an additional photo ID and only allows this practice when the OneCard office is closed.
While this is perhaps not a huge inconvenience if the student is at Thorne, near the OneCard office in Coles Tower, the rule could drive a student to skip a meal if they were required to walk all the way from Moulton Union to the Tower. The Dining Service must implement a solution that respects the concerns of students.
I first experienced this policy's downside this fall, when I was barred from entering Thorne after forgetting my OneCard. I had just been at practice and had also forgotten my wallet and thus any photo ID. Hungry and discouraged, I was infuriated by the logic of the card-checker at the time, who argued that "I wouldn't go to a restaurant without bringing money, would I?"
The simple, obvious response to this question was, to my mind, "Yes, I would go to a restaurant without money if I had already paid for my meal!" In fact, I paid $6,020 at the beginning of the academic year for 19 meals per week, and I was now being summarily denied from using one of those meals.
I know my student ID number, a five-digit letter and number combination that is not made public and, in my judgment, is quite secure. In fact, I have never had a meal stolen from me, nor have I ever heard of this happening to anyone at Bowdoin.
In fact, when I asked Director of Dining Services Mary McAteer Kennedy if any statistics existed regarding such thefts, she was unable to give any. Kennedy stated that "the need for ID verification was necessary and prudent" due to "charges made erroneously to both student and faculty/staff accounts."
The great number of students who would often forget their cards caused this confusion (over 100 at some meals), and presumably the Dining Service staff made errors in entering the ID numbers from the sign-in list into the card reader.
This situation, while admittedly not ideal, seemed only to require the development of a more efficient system of registering orally-provided ID numbers, and perhaps more capable machinery. Instead, the Dining Service chose to punish those students who use and pay for access to the dining halls.
Many Bowdoin students carry nothing but their OneCard with them around campus, so in events when the card is lost, they often have no secondary ID to prove that they have paid for the meal they would like to eat. Everyone, however, knows his or her student ID number.
The dining halls are not high security vaults, nor are they restaurants where students pay for individually priced items. They are venues where the great majority of consumers have already paid for the service or wish to charge the service to an account. I have never heard of any comparable establishment requiring ID for every transaction.
Students must not stand for absurd policies that restrict them from obtaining food that they have paid for.
The new OneCard policy is simply one small part of a great number of arbitrary restrictions that the Dining Service places on meal plans.
Why, for example, when I have paid for 19 meals per week, may I not choose to use two of those meals at once, for example to pay for a visiting friend's dinner? I paid for the meals; they are in my account, yet the Dining Service restricts me from using them as I wish.
In addition, why do meals I do not use in one week not roll over to the next? Clearly, the Dining Service expect the great majority of students to use fewer than the full 19 meals and add restrictions that ensure that most do not.
Would it not be simpler to just base the plans on the total number meals in a semester, and give students a declining number of meals to use as they please, rather than placing draconian restrictions on the weekly number of meals?
I urge all Bowdoin students to recognize that the Dining Service is a business that holds a virtual monopoly over eating choices while at school, and to watch for abuses of this monopolistic power.
While we are all thankful for the wonderful food at Moulton and Thorne, we must be vigilant consumers in order to preserve the overall greatness of the dining experience at Bowdoin.
Wes Fleuchaus is a member of the Class of 2011.