Discontent remains among the Sarah Lawrence community about the change in the weekend hours of Bates and the Pub instituted last semester, despite some improvements made since last fall.
After students raised various concerns—discontinuous service, long lines and wait times, a lack of options, and the needs of the athletes—AVI resident director Lydia Becker promised to adjust the food service program accordingly and has since introduced some solutions.
This semester, Bates no longer stops making hot food at 2 p.m. but rather continues up until closing time at 4 p.m., dissolving what was described as a “service gap.” According to ticket times—when the order is placed versus when it is delivered—the Pub has become much more efficient, shortening lines and wait times. The Pub has also begun putting hot food in the ready-to-go case before the venue opens at 4 p.m. Additionally, serving athletes breakfast after Saturday morning practice began at Bates almost immediately after this shortcoming of the new operational hours was vocalized early last semester.
Though the discussion of issues coming out of the new operational hours was largely spurred by a petition to "normalize" the hours of Bates and the Pub and effectively change them yet again, Becker plans to maintain the hours as they are now for the foreseeable future.
“The operational hours was a big change, the biggest change the campus had seen in a couple of years,” Becker said. “I don’t need to revisit and ask for more big changes. I think where we are is smart, and I think we need to continue to head down this path.”
Though Becker describes the newly implemented solutions to concerns stemming from the new operational hours a type of necessary “give and take,” creator of the petition Amit Sankaran (‘17) describes them as “damage control,” and feels that the original change “created more problems than we solved.” He says some issues have improved, and some have not, but overall, the decision should have involved more members of the community. That way, the major change could truly benefit as many people as possible.
Becker told the Phoenix last semester, “You’re never going to make everyone happy, and we know that. The goal is to make as many people happy as we can, and this decision was never meant to make people unhappy. I think it was meant to be efficient, and it was meant to provide some things to my team, and we’re going to reevaluate it.”
Sankaran, however, said that he “entirely disagree[s] this is the solution that makes the fewest number of people upset,” and noted that the Senate meeting during which Lydia spoke about the potential change last spring had only a few students in attendance, representing very little of the community’s needs.
The petition Sankaran created on September 12, about a week after classes began, garnered over 100 signatures. “At the time, the metrics demonstrated to me that it was an issue that people were concerned about,” Sankaran said.
Not only was Sankaran looking to see how many other members of the community held similar views on the new hours, but he also wanted to publish the minutes from the Senate meeting during which the decision was discussed in order to show students where the change was coming from.
This semester, one consequence he sees as essentially irreparable is that because the new operational hours of the Pub and Bates are completely complementary, the entire campus must eat at a single venue during a mealtime, “putting unnecessary stress on the food workers.”
Sankaran said that when the petition first began circulating at the beginning of last semester, several Pub workers praised him.
“I haven’t talked to a single Pub worker that thinks that their job is easier because of the new hours,” Sankaran said. He also noted that this was within the first few weeks of school and their sentiments may have changed.
However, an AVI source who wished to remain anonymous recently told the Phoenix that many workers have remained displeased with the change in hours, citing reasons related to undesired changes in their schedules. The source noted that what would make the workers happiest would be to “put it back the way it was” last year.
Though many students in signing petition did specifically note that the Pub workers seemed “overworked” on weekend nights, Becker disagreed and characterized it as misreading the situation.
“When you’re standing in line in the peak hour, it does seem like everyone is overworked, especially because you’re standing and waiting,” Becker said. “If you came in and you had your food in three minutes, everyone’s not working quite as hard—you think. They actually are working very hard all of the time. It’s just the perception of when we’re standing in line and we see everyone busy and kind of grinding away…[but] I do not think overworked is the right word. Working hard is absolutely, but that’s everyday whether we’re busy or not.”
Last fall, one Bates employee who also wished to remain anonymous told the Phoenix that many fellow workers were not fond of the change. However, the same individual this semester expressed newfound feelings of content working under the new operational hours. Becker said that in the beginning of the school year a few complications had to be worked out, but things are running much more smoothly now.
“It was just assimilating my team to the change, and the students to the change, to where everyone kind of knows this is how it sort of works,” Becker said. “And as we move into the second year with these hours, students returning are already used to it, first year students have no other expectation because it is what it is.”
While Becker characterized adaption as good and necessary, Sankaran argued that it is only natural and does not imply the situation is near ideal.
“Adaptation happens,” Sankaran said. “People figure out a way to get food. Just because people adapt, doesn’t mean that you did it correctly.”
Another consequence some students feel is irreparable with the new hours is the lack of breakfast before 11 a.m. In signing the petition this past fall, Gabrielle Risica (‘17) noted her reason as follows: “This is ridiculous. There is no reason why I should not be able to get food before 11 a.m. on the weekends or a wholesome dinner in the evening. Our meal plans have not changed, so the hours shouldn’t either. I demand reasonable food options at reasonable hours of the day if I am paying the same price for a meal.” When the Phoenix spoke with her recently, she indicated that her sentiments have not changed.
Though Becker said that according to data analysis, “we are not a traditional breakfast campus,” Sankaran noted that it takes little man power to open the Pub in the morning for non-grill options like coffee and an apple that a student may, for example, need at 8 in the morning on a Saturday before going to work at their job.
“I’m able to go buy groceries and feed myself and make breakfast on my own,” Sankaran said. “But, I wouldn’t assume that everyone has that.”
This is something Sankaran said should have been considered in Senate initially. He also clarified that he is not against the decision in its entirety, as he understands it from a financial perspective.
For a few years now, AVI at Sarah Lawrence has been losing money, not profiting. The decision for the new hours was part of an attempt to improve that reality.
“I will confirm that finance and trying to not operate at a deficit drove me to look at the program as a whole, and that was what I went to Senate with to request to make some changes,” she said.
Describing other benefits of the change, she explained, “Obviously [operating under these hours] creates a ton of efficiency for us. It also provided great opportunity for some of my team members to work a tidier schedule, which is better for them and their home life. It provided some relief to the facilities and maintenance team. If we could have a building operating at less hours that saves on natural resources.”
At the Senate meeting last spring, Becker noted, “This is not something that’s committed forever, we’ll be asking again next year if suddenly we see a blossoming student body. It can change back or change to something different.”
Becker said last semester that this year’s student body grew and AVI was not aware of this until the first day of operation in the fall. Head chef Jordan Luchini said, “We were originally told that it was going to be less than the year before.”
Becker told the Phoenix last fall, “The petition is absolutely correct. I said that if student population grew, we would have to reevaluate, and that’s where we are.” This semester, however, Becker said that she does not plan to change the hours once again, noting that not only does it create financial efficiency, but it also is better for the AVI employees on campus, a team of 85.
Still, Sankaran stands by his view that more of the community should have had their voices heard in making this decision.
“I understand that business decisions are business decisions, but I think that when you’re a business is serving a community, you need to take the concerns of the community seriously.”
Victoria Mycue '20