Letter to the Editor: Food services transgress on University’s responsibilities to students

To the Editor:

Spandan Marasini’s report on “University Dining Services Underfeeds, Underpays” points out two problems, both of which challenge every one of the University’s four strategic commitments as well as the University’s Mission Statement’s declaration that “Bucknell seeks to educate our students to serve the common good and to promote justice in ways sensitive to the moral and ethical dimensions of life”

I’d like to make three points.

The first is that it is extraordinarily difficult for hungry students to achieve “academic excellence” (Strategic Commitment 1) and “experience a sense of belonging by a foundation of inclusion, equity and access” (Strategic Commitment 2), or to experience “an integrated and exemplary residential student experience” (Strategic Commitment 3), if they are denied the necessary resources such as food by a University seeking to create “as sustainable future through the responsible stewardship of the University’ financial, natural, human and other resources” (Strategic Commitment 4). How is it possible to thrive in the face of hunger? Food insecurity on campus does not reflect an effort to “promote justice in ways sensitive to the moral and ethical dimensions of life” (Mission Statement). Clearly, the problem of student hunger and food insecurity, which has been known for years, has not yet been a University priority.

The second point is that the University has been paying poverty wages to food service workers and other support staff even before Parkhurst took over the food service. For example, when Sodexo ran the food service, wages were beneath the minimum necessary to live in Union County without supplemental public or private help.These poverty wages prompted a campus Living Wage movement. One element of that is reflected in a motion passed by the University Faculty in November 2002, almost 18 years ago recommending to the President $9/hour, adjusted annually, as a wage floor “for all Bucknell support staff (including dining services).” Nine dollars an hour was barely adequate pay in 2002 for someone to live in Union County, PA. Nine dollars in 2002 is equal to $12.91 in 2020 dollars (based on an average inflation rate of 2.02%/year). Thus, a truly bare minimum should be $12.91.

The third point is that food insecurity on campus and paying wages that promote food insecurity off-campus reflect the University’s priorities. Food insecurity is very real and very harmful. Addressing these is central to “the moral and ethical dimensions of life.”

Paul Susman, Professor of Geography

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