Editorial: Administration should look at students as partners, not customers

The Daily Northwestern Editorial Board

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As students eased back into the grind of group meetings and oddly timed meals this fall, they may have noticed some changes that will shift their daily routines.

Several times last week, The Daily reported on changes to student life handed down by the administration. Since the start of the academic year, Northwestern has revised dining hall hours and retail availability in Norris University Center. We understand closing 1835 Hinman for the purpose of having Allison open on the weekend will accommodate a greater number of students. Yet the other alterations — some announced by the University, others seemingly swept under the rug — are less easy to swallow. All packages must now be picked up at Foster-Walker Complex, regardless of where the recipient lives on campus. The Reference Room in University Library is now a lounge, no longer the same beloved study space with spacious tables. But The Daily finds the changes affecting Norris food vendors most concerning, both for the inconvenience they cause to students and the lack of transparency on the part of the University.

(Great Room closing, Allison opening on weekends among nuCuisine changes)

Many Norris dining and food court options now close at 3 p.m. After the decision to shutter Windy City Deli, nuSushi and Big Ten Cafe and replace them with a Subway (Evanston’s 11th such shop), the few remaining services leave students with limited late-night — or even just night — choices. Unless students want to eat dinner at 2:45 p.m., they don’t have much to pick from at the moment.

Although the University and nuCuisine have implemented temporary fixes, the solutions only apply until the yet-to-be-announced opening of Subway, which will close each day at 9 p.m.

(NuCuisine adds temporary dinner options to Norris as students await Subway)

Last year, Frontera Fresco opened at Norris to great fanfare and the understanding that it marked the first of many steps in adding student center services. The establishment of Rick Bayless’ first-ever foray into a college setting was billed as the beginning of upgrades to the existing space as NU plans for a more modernized facility. Coupled with cutbacks to Frontera’s hours — all stations now close at 7 p.m. — that goal now seems obsolete. We’re wondering how much more can be “improved” before the current crop of students graduates.

The University has cited low foot traffic and declining revenue as its motivations behind the shortened hours. Although we understand the need to look at numbers to assess how businesses can turn profits, we don’t understand why our nonprofit university insists on treating the sustenance of its enrolled students as a purely economic endeavor. Students place a higher priority on being able to have food to consume — especially at uncommon hours — and most students are paying a high sticker price for that luxury. But the notion that college students are expected to embrace Norris as a communal and collaborative space — where we meet, work and hang out — but are not expected to be hungry is outlandish. Block meal plans are designed to accommodate people who can’t make it to the dining halls. How is the University supposed to succeed with its “Meet Me at Norris” public relations campaign if there’s even less to draw students to the student center than there was last year?

Though students returned to campus ready to start Fall Quarter, it feels as though Norris never came back from summer. When the University spoke about changes to dining with the new school year, including revamped weekend hours for Allison dining hall and changes to The Great Room, no one seemed to mention an overhaul of Norris dining as we know it. It wasn’t until one of our staff members walked downstairs to see Willie’s Food Court gated and shut at 6 p.m. did someone tell us what had happened. And only after this issue was publicized did nuCuisine devise temporary options to hold students over until Subway opens.

Associated Student Government has similarly expressed discontent with being kept out of the loop while these changes were made. When there is a specific committee — in this case, ASG’s student life committee — set up to work with University officials to implement student-specific changes but that group is not consulted, something seems to have gone awry. We tout “collaboration” as an important way to bring students to the forefront of campus issues, but then leave them out of the conversation on simple concerns such as food.

Although this campus may face issues larger than the day-to-day dilemma of what to eat and when, we believe NU should treat us as students rather than as customers. For many campus leaders, Norris is a place in which we live. The University’s stated goal of improving our existing student center and increasing communication between students and administrators stands in stark contrast to its decision to quietly slash our services.