To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Sodexo monopoly pushing bad deal on students

A recent email from the Student Union outlining changes in next year’s meal plans has students in an uproar. All of the classes (minus the class of 2016, which was grandfathered out of the changes) must register for a meal plan if they are to get on-campus housing, even if the residence hall has a kitchen. Today, if you live in Ridgewood, you have a kitchen and are not required to have a meal plan. If you live in Ridgewood next semester, you’ll still have your kitchen, but you’ll need to purchase a meal plan. This change, along with other recent dining alterations, seems more like a method for the university and Sodexo to gain more money at the expense of students. Something needs to be done.

This year’s 12 meals per week plan allows 875 points per semester for a total of $2850 per semester. Next year’s 12 meal plan allows 850 points per semester for a total of $2978 per semester. Something doesn’t add up; the plan is losing 25 points but is increasing in price by $128. We’re seeing a price hike—something that isn’t particularly new for meal plans. However, given that the class of 2017 is required to have a meal plan regardless of where they live, this is a totally new situation. The price hike along with the forced meal plans for rising juniors may force students off campus for financial reasons in a financial environment unfriendly to students.

The monopoly that Sodexo is exercising on campus is not just limited to next year’s arbitrary price hike.

Recently, Sodexo removed most of the non-food items from the C-Store, items frequently purchased that use up a fair amount of points, especially for those that want to use them. Until recently, you could purchase dental floss, filler paper and other useful supplies there. Now, there’s but a small shelf of shampoo and toothpaste at the front of the store. To be totally honest, this seems strictly like a course of action taken by Sodexo to make sure we don’t use all of our points. Now, we are inconvenienced in having to go to the expensive bookstore or off campus to procure things we used to be able to get with points from our meal plans.

This certainly seems like a money saving plot. Maybe it would have been a bit more palatable had Sodexo done this at the end or beginning of the semester instead of the middle, when we need to restock on supplies. Obviously, the C-Store isn’t an option for that anymore.

When you put all of this together, we can see that our contracted food provider is exercising a monopoly on campus and is reaping the benefits of such a status at the expense of us students. With mandatory meal plans and the elimination of items that can be purchased with points, many students are left with plans they don’t want that come with points they don’t need. Unless you’re Sodexo, it’s a huge waste of money that has the capacity to drive students off campus.

The university needs to step in more to monitor how Sodexo operates its monopoly. Its recent actions have proven more than unfair to a student body that pays an ever-rising tuition for a private university. On top of rising tuition costs, now everyone under the class of 2016 must pay for a hiked meal plan if they wish to live on campus, and that’s just not reasonable.

First and foremost on the university’s plate is to attempt to reverse the mandatory meal plans for students living in residence halls with kitchens. If it wants the financial gains of having students residing in on-campus housing, offering voluntary meal plans to students with kitchens again is the best course of action. In full knowledge that the price of meal plans tends to rise yearly, the university should let Sodexo keep this year’s pricing plan and then freeze it so that it only rises with inflation, not at the whim of the provider. At the C-Store, the university should attempt to persuade Sodexo to restock the popular non-food items once sold there: items that students wanted to spend points on.

We need to start holding our food provider accountable for how it capitalizes on its monopoly here at Brandeis. Sodexo’s number one priority should not be to maximize profits at the expense of students; it should be to provide an affordable and manageable dining experience for students sick of wasting money.

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