Old grumpy grad students like me enjoy returning to our former haunts – back in my undergrad days, I got to be grumpy about the environment in these very pages. While it’s a pleasure to be complaining in The Daily again, it takes something special to rouse grad students to take a public stand on a campus issue. Today, I feel compelled to comment on the latest instance in a long history of things that make it harder for me to nostalg’ around campus. That is, the recent announcement that yet another one of the restaurants that provides some dining diversity on campus – Ike’s Place in the Huang Engineering Center – is being replaced by R&DE.
Ike’s is losing its contract after a highly nontransparent process that improperly claims deep student engagement. I, along with about 900 other people who frequent the Science and Engineering Quad, took a survey last fall and then discovered that a committee unanimously decided that R&DE should get the Huang contract. Unanimous results – and mysterious student representation – tend to get my attention.
More important, though, is the nature of the survey used to declare that R&DE better meets student desires than Ike’s.
I’m doing a Ph.D. on how social preferences can be used to make better policy decisions, so I struggle with how to figure out what those social preferences are every. damn. day. I will probably spend a year designing a survey that I will subsequently throw out because I didn’t ask the right questions in the right way to actually answer the question I am asking, and then I will spend another year getting it right.
So I know that, even if it was unintentional, the survey we got about food service in the Huang Engineering Center was poorly designed to answer the question of what food establishment students want in Huang. However, as I commented to several peers at the time, it was very well-designed to get rid of Ike’s.
Here’s how it worked. The primary two questions on the R&DE survey – the ones Stanford is now using most to justify the R&DE takeover – asked:
1) What do you think is a reasonable and realistic price point for your lunch – food and drinks only, not including tax and optional gratuity?
2) What do you think is a reasonable and realistic amount of time to wait, starting with getting in line up until your food is ready and ‘in your hand’?
True, Ike’s sandwiches tend to be more expensive than others, and the line is notoriously long (though there are $5 options, portions are huge and you can order ahead and stand in a 30-second line if you want). But the survey didn’t ask about mitigating factors, and it didn’t ask about operating hours, what quality means, whether diversity in food options is valuable or a whole host of other relevant issues. The survey seemed stacked against Ike’s.
Interestingly, a student-initiated runoff-style survey asking “which vendor do you want to operate in Huang Engineering Center next year? R&DE or Ike’s?” yielded an overwhelming majority in favor of Ike’s – more than 97 percent of over 2,600 survey respondents. Although not perfect, this survey was at least direct and clear – as was the student response.
But back to my Stanford nostalgia, and to the bigger problem that I see on campus. Whatever you think about Ike’s, you’d be hard-pressed to say that it’s just like everything else on campus. In the four years between when I graduated from Stanford and came back to do a Ph.D., the diversity of dining options on campus has plummeted. On my graduation day, the venerable Moon Beans (anyone?) was closed and replaced by our second Coupa. Now, there are five Coupas, and I have been shocked by the homogeneity of menus across campus.
A hastily designed survey and an opaque engagement process should not be allowed to keep throwing out all the dining diversity on campus. Keep the institutional memory alive, keep Ike’s and help make sure that if we’re going to continue with the R&DE takeover, it’s because it’s actually what we want.
Emily Grubert ’09 Ph.D. ’17
Contact Emily at [email protected]