Slow goings for Dining Advisory Committee

Radhika Garland

Since November of 2006, a Dining Advisory Committee of five to six students and representatives from Dining Services have been meeting once a month to specifically discuss dining, with understandably small results.
While the Student Welfare Committee seeks to improve every student’s living and dining experience on campus, there are topics it has tended to favor over others.
The Dining Advisory Committee at Lawrence has not had precedence during meetings because more pressing topics, such as unavailability of parking, merited immediate discussion.
Seeing a need for a separate dining committee, Director of Dining Services Patrick Niles asked that a special group of students keep the dining services discussion rolling.
The Dining Advisory Committee is a subcommittee of the Student Welfare Committee.
The new dining agenda at Lawrence has met a few times with the five to six student representatives as well as representatives from Downer and Lucy’s since its creation last November.
In addition, a few students have bowed out of the committee due to heavy course loads and have not been able to participate in some of Niles’ initiatives.
Niles’ first initiative has been to encourage participation in the new Dining Advisory Committee to all students. So far the only students who have shown an interest in participating have been recommended to Niles by LUCC.
A low level of student involvement will make it difficult for Niles to implement his many plans including product testing, the secret shopper survey program, and tours of other food service operations.
Comment sheets are already available for students and are checked daily; a pile of three of the purple sheets was on Niles’ Downer office during the interview.
However, the decision to buy a new food product is not based on comment sheets alone, especially since the advent of the Dining Advisory Committee.
An old hand at working to satisfy college diners, Niles has been a dining director at more than three University of Wisconsin campuses, including UW-Stout.
He views his meetings with the freshly minted Dining Advisory Committee as promising, though he regrets what he sees as a “lack of diversity.”
Many students on the committee are vegetarian or vegan, and he worries that “personal preferences” will be represented over the good of the whole.
Student Welfare Committee member and meat-eater Emily Saltzman was not concerned that a majority of vegans on the committee would give vegan or vegetarian interest undue prominence.
Food available to vegetarians is still limited, and vegetarians and vegans still need to be represented since they are a minority at Lawrence.
Saltzman, a transfer student from Cornell College in Iowa, highlighted the severe lack of vegan or vegetarian foods at her former school. “Dining at Cornell was like dining at the grill. Even the salad bar was terrible.”
Lawrence also compares favorably to comparable nearby liberal arts schools such as Ripon, who do not have three fully stocked lines for almost every meal.
Saltzman and Gayatri Naidu, another member of Student Welfare Committee, connected a low involvement of students in the budding Dining Advisory Committee to a lack of networking between friends.
According to Saltzman and Naidu, having friends who recommend joining a committee give it a “face” and increase the likelihood of joining.
The two have seen the same phenomenon in LUCC and Student Welfare Committee, both of which are experiencing dramatically decreased student involvement this year.