OpEd: Public or Private? – Real Estate’s Hostile Takeover of RSSP and Dining

My First Tour at UC Berkeley

My First Tour at UC Berkeley

At this moment three years ago, I was making what seemed like the most important decision of my young life: where did I want to spend the next four years?

For me, the question was not just about academics, nor just about the communities that I would be a part of, nor the opportunities that would be presented. All of these aspects were fairly comparable across all of the colleges I applied to. So, what did my decision finally come down to?

Food.

When I visited UC San Diego, another one of my top considerations, I knew almost instantly upon walking into their student center and food court that it wasn’t the place for me.

The first things I saw were Burger King, Jamba Juice, Panda Express and Round Table Pizza. I was bombarded with fast food options and almost nothing else. I remember walking around feeling like I was in the middle of a strip mall rather than a public University.

Fast Food at the Price Center in UCSD

Fast Food at the Price Center in UCSD

As an intended nutrition and environmental science major, I guess my disgust made sense.

When I visited UC Berkeley, the only big food service chain in sight was Peet’s and, even though I’m not their biggest fan, I did appreciate the fact that the University was supporting a business that was founded right here in Berkeley.

Upon enrolling at UC Berkeley, I thought that I would be attending a University that cared about its students’ academic success as well as their mental and physical health. I thought that I would be a student in a University that strived to be a leader in sustainability.
Maybe I was a little naïve, but in general, over my past three years at UC Berkeley I have found support and excitement from students, faculty and staff in creating a more inclusive, healthy and environmentally friendly campus. Unfortunately, the sectors of campus that have been the most opposed to these improvements are the same sectors that control the future of the University, i.e. the Administration and the Division of Real Estate.

On Thursday at 3pm, you probably received an email from Claire Holmes regarding the transition of the Division of Student Affairs to the Division of Real Estate. I am almost positive you didn’t read it; I almost never read emails from Claire Holmes, but for some reason the heading of this one caught my attention.

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The email publicized the takeover as a chance to lower costs to students by creating “public-private partnerships” and centralizing campus infrastructure. The problem that the email did not discuss is at what costs are these changes going to be made?
Bob Lalanne, Vice Chancellor of Real Estate, is one of the main leaders of this acquisition and only very recently informed Cal Dining and RSSP that this takeover will mean the removal of all of on-campus restaurants within the next 1-2 years, leaving Cal Dining only in charge of the residential dining commons.

“Yay! No more Cal Dining!”

It’s okay we were all thinking it.

Still, despite how much we like to complain about our on-campus food options, I think we all know the selection really isn’t that bad. In fact, I happen to love the salads at GBC, the wraps at Qualcomm and the burritos at Pat Brown’s and on a student budget it’s really not a bad deal.

However, by removing Cal Dining from these on-campus locations, the Division of Real Estate is hoping to sell these prime spots to the highest bidders, meaning potentially private corporations like Starbucks, Round Table Pizza and maybe even the dreaded Panda Express that students voted to keep off campus in 2009. Furthermore, hundreds of University employees (students and career employees) will likely lose their jobs, as the new Division of Administration & Finance/Real Estate cleans house by selling off the dorms and campus restaurants to private groups.
In 2009, students voted to keep Panda Express from setting up shop in Lower Sproul because of their desire to keep campus restaurants locally run in order to maintain the strong relationships that have allowed for student-demanded progress in food sustainability. Any student who has worked with Shawn LaPean, Executive Director of Cal Dining and Daryl Ross, owner of FSM Café, Boalt Hall’s Café Zeb, Caffè Strada and more, can attest to their commitment to student interests especially around campus sustainability initiatives.

Who knows what the private groups brought onto campus will be like…

Cal Dining Poster for their "Extreme Local" Dinner hosted on Food Day Oct. 24th, 2014

Cal Dining Poster for their “Extreme Local” Dinner hosted on Food Day Oct. 24th, 2014

So, for many reasons, I am against this privatization of our public University and urge that student’s stand up to keep student services within the University! Because how can a University with 26,000 undergraduates not have a Division of Student Affairs? To me, this seems like just another opportunity for the Administration to become even more separated from us, the students, whom they are meant to serve and support.

The email from Claire Holmes has left much unsaid and many questions unanswered. The decision of this takeover is said to be final but there is still a lot that we can do to change the final outcome! If you are interested in learning more or participating in student opposition efforts, please contact me at satkinson@berkeley.edu.

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