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Harvard tries to cut the fat

The Crimson reports that one way academic departments are trying to cut costs is to eliminate catered meals at department meetings. In response, the Harvard dining-services division that caters many of these meals has begun slashing the prices it charges departments:

... Faculty members were advised in an e-mail to bring their own lunch, "but some people didn't read to the bottom of the e-mail," she said. Those who did not pack a lunch found themselves sharing a banana with their colleagues, Cohen said. ...



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"Anthropology Department Chair Theodore C. Bestor said that in recent years, while the department has provided coffee to its faculty and staff, drinkers were expected to leave 25 cents for each cup consumed. But Bestor said that the $2,000 the department spent on coffee brought in only $400 worth of quarters. The department will not continue to offer coffee this year. "

Now individual fac/staff will be paying my Dunkin franchise an average $2.50 "caffeine tax" per person per day. Oh, and you know many of them will get hooked on the baked/fried goods. I will thrive on the suffering of down-and-out Harvard.

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Fruit sculptures and granola bars. Cookies that clogged arteries just looking at them. Starbucks by the gallon. Four types of cheese and five kinds of crackers. All for a seminar with outside attendees - and that was the internal catering!

Cookies and coffee and tea were standard for a department meeting - I rarely remember getting lunch provided, but that may be a School of Public Health thing. I used to wrap up a couple cookies for my then small boys - and my boss would drop a couple off for them if I didn't go to a meeting.

Grad students would text each other with room numbers and meeting end times in order to scavenge left overs before clean up time.

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In one department I was in, even being vegetarian, I could often eat lunch and dinner for free, just from leftovers from the various daily visits and meetings within the department itself.

One student got sponsors to fund an industrial coffee machine that made all kinds of fancy drinks automatically, ostensibly for a research project. It was free, and got constant use by the entire department. I myself, new to caffeine, was soon visiting it many times a day for free $4 drinks, to the extent of getting ill.

And you'd get quite sick of Legal Sea Foods and such if you volunteered often to take some of the daily visiting sponsors/VIPs to lunch on the department's dime.

New PhD students had a seminar series that involved going as a group to expensive restaurants, one faculty member at a time.

I won't go into the travel junkets.

When I started a department-wide seminar group on a certain topic, I was already bothered by the amount of funds that were being spent on luxuries in the department. (Grad students should *not* be treated like spoiled dotcom-ers or trust funders, even if that's what they were accustomed to before.) But I wanted to do something nice for my group, and I knew food would help attendance. So I instituted a chocolate theme, and quietly funded it with a few dollars from my own pocket. A canister of tasty chocolate fudge from Star Market cost around $8, IIRC, which was a small price to pay for Science.

Most departments are nowhere near that excessive with free stuff. A different school and department I was at, which was academically superior to the dotcom jetsetter department, there was virtually no free food, and, IIRC, there was a collection jar for the Swiss Miss packets. Hungry grad students had to resort to the usual protocol of monitoring the university calendar of talks around campus for magical mentions of "refreshments will be served."

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