Students must be given a greater say regarding restaurants on campus

Michael Lazenby, Columnist

From class availability to living arrangements, students tend to have limited say in many matters in their college experience, and that includes the restaurants on campus. However, students are the primary consumers on campus and should have a voice as to which restaurants are on campus. 

The University must consider all student voices by offering an official student-wide survey every two years where students can vote for which restaurants they wish to keep or want to see on campus.

In the past, the University has allegedly sent out surveys to students regarding their dining experiences and opinions of establishments on campus. UT also asserts that in addition to surveys, they have a board consisting of nine members (six are students) that plays an integral role in deciding which restaurants are on campus.

Sociology freshman Cal Rogers expressed his concern regarding students not being heard when it comes to campus dining.

“I’m sure there (are) some ways students can probably put in their input, but as far as I’m aware there’s no way to do that, and I definitely don’t feel like I have an influence in how that works,” Rogers said.

Rogers laughed and shook his head when asked if he ever received a survey from the University about dining. 

While the University’s board consists primarily of students, six students can’t necessarily represent the entire student body.

“The board seems kind of small. I would love to know how they select those people because I’ve never heard about that at all,” Rogers said. “I don’t even know if those people are democratically selected and it’s hard to say if they actually support and demonstrate what the student body wants.”

A microscopic portion of the UT community has enormous say in which restaurants and food businesses enter or leave campus. Whether it’s Starbucks, Panda Express or a food truck that seasonally comes to UT, the power of student body input has been diminished.

David Anthony, director of business services for the University Unions, explained some of the processes his team employed in determining which food businesses came to the Union.

“Two years ago, we brought on a consulting firm to help guide us through some changes. One of the important things they did was focus groups of students to understand what was going wrong and what could be improved,” Anthony said. “Those recommendations from students were included in the consulting firm’s recommendations to us.” 

Why is there a high-priced middleman between student’s opinions and action? While digging through customer data is a natural part of using student feedback, there’s no reason the University can’t simply send a survey to every current student, evaluate that data and make necessary changes.

Anthony’s department has also followed up directly with customers to retain feedback.

“Once a concept is open, we’ll also have ongoing surveys with customers, … and we’ll talk to folks who just made a purchase and ask them some questions about their experience,” Anthony  said. 

Even if the University used all of these methods and surveyed half of the student population, it still wouldn’t be sufficient. Outside of students reportedly not receiving surveys, a few focus groups and board seats don’t speak for the entire student population.

Anything short of all students having a vote in the matter is unacceptable.

The University either has chronic communication issues or isn’t intent on hearing all students. Being able to choose the food you want on campus is a right students deserve. The University must render this right to all students, not just a select few.

Lazenby is an economics junior from Chicago, Illinois