James Waller, News Correspondent
As knowledge of Jacksonville State University’s contract renewal with Sodexo’s food service has become public, I have noticed a worrying trend in the attitude cultivated by JSU’s officials. As of this fall semester, JSU’s undergraduate student enrollment is the highest it’s been since 2012, and JSU officials are motivated to appeal to this expanding student body by creating an environment in which the students feel content. But, I believe JSU officials misunderstand what is genuinely valuable to a collegiate.
JSU is attempting some rapid expansion. Before President Beehler’s termination, students saw JSU erect an impressive new recreational facility, complete with gymnasium, pool, exercise equipment, video-gaming station and an in-building cafe. Following this achievement, JSU’s Board of Trustees now wants to sign a new contract with Sodexo, which entails building a new, $26 million dining hall and mandatory meal plans for commuters.
There is a growing unease amongst students. As we’ve seen more and more fees appended to our attendance costs, we’ve become suspicious of the motives of our university officials. Was there ever any demand amongst the student body for finer, newer facilities? Is it wise to take such an expansionist approach when JSU has yet to recover fully from the damage done by the tornado in 2018? Why should funds be wrung from us when those funds are going to be used on superficial amenities, instead of repair to damaged class buildings?
The attitude cultivated by JSU officials is one of glamour. For all appearances, they wish to enchant prospective students with impressive secondary facilities. However, this surface level appearance of collegiate quality will only attract the denigrated stereotype of the party-student. A fine cafeteria or a rec center rock wall will not attract and hold a serious student, but the quality of academic service will. If students are to be properly supported in their academic advancement, funds should be used to repair our class buildings.
This suspicion and dissatisfaction with JSU’s use of their money has increasingly galvanized students to take a stand and say that they will not be extorted from and then mollified by a pretty campus. JSU students have established a Facebook group over 500 students strong, wherein they’ve expressed their dissatisfaction by airing complaints and sharing stories and photos of university negligence. As of the writing of this article, these students plan to publicly protest JSU’s expenditures by marching across campus on Friday, November 1.
It is worth considering that JSU signing onto the terms of Sodexo’s contract may not result purely from greed. JSU initially contacted three major food service organizations, but one of those declined to make an offer on a contract with JSU and the other asked that the university wait another year to consider contracts. This practically left Sodexo as the only option, putting Sodexo in a place of strong bargaining power, essentially allowing them to dictate terms with little leeway to JSU.
Regardless of the board’s true intentions, it is my hope that the coming protest will cause those in power at JSU incorporate student feedback more heavily into their decision-making and allow us the chance to shape our academic experience to fulfill our needs and goals.
Editor’s note: this article was originally meant for publication in the Oct. 31 edition of The Chanticleer. In all of our excitement for our Halloween spooktacular edition, this article was misplaced. To keep the integrity of the author’s words, we have opted to run the article as it was submitted to us, just a week later than intended. Our deepest apologies to this writer and our readers.