Letters To The Editor

Two weeks ago I decided to go abroad in the spring, having elected to major in history. I did my research and selected four schools in London. With applications ready to be given to teachers, I went into the study abroad office to discuss these plans. The office would not approve the plan because I had failed to turn in a proposal last April. A late application required special permission from the dean of students.

So I made an appointment. While frustrated, I expected that Dean Lieber would grant me permission to go abroad, given my legitimate reasons for not anticipating last April that circumstances would enable me to go this year.

I certainly did not expect an institution like Amherst to be obstreperous about a simple and legitimate request. In the course catalogue Amherst claims their goals are for “the intellectual competence and awareness of problems and methods.” What better way for a history major to accomplish these goals than to immerse herself in another country’s history and culture? While Amherst is a wonderful place to study history, the advantage of a semester abroad is so self-evident that Amherst, perhaps begrudgingly, even provides a bureaucracy to arrange it.

Dean Lieber, even after listening to my defense, held firm to the policy that I will not receive credit for any work done elsewhere if a proposal is not submitted during the previous spring term. Amherst could effectively block my plan by refusing to accept any credits for study abroad.

Lieber asserted that the purpose of the policy is to allow the school to plan admissions and housing accordingly. However, his defense of the policy collapsed when I offered to pair with a person who had made a proposal last April but decided not to go. After all, a number of students submit proposals and never follow through. Dean Lieber was left with no reason for his refusal other than blind obedience to a rule without purpose.

Had Amherst met me halfway and put me on a waiting list, Dean Lieber could have seen whether the number of students actually going equalled what the school expected. This solution would have completely resolved his stated concerns.

I suppose we must all learn eventually the hard lessons of dealing with intractable bureaucracies. I am disappointed that this lesson is being taught at Amherst, by Amherst. This is supposed to be a community of smart people making intelligent decisions. It didn’t happen here. Instead we get wooden application of arbitrary rules, applied without reasonable discretion, for no legitimate reason. No effort was made to solve problems or find solutions.

Serious thought needs to be put into changing the spring proposal policy to one more sensible, such as having the deadline in the fall when students have an idea of what the year ahead can accommodate.

For me, however, it is too late.

Heidi Kahrl ’02

Meal Plan Needs New Options
To the Editor:

Every year, students cry foul about the Valentine meal plan, claiming that it rips students off by forcing them to buy into a full meal plan if they live on campus, even though most students skip breakfast, and many students would rather spend their food dollars elsewhere. Every year, too, members of the SGO, myself included, vow to investigate the reasons behind Valentine’s seemingly punitive system for meals, and find solutions. This year alone, most of the speeches by candidates for freshman class SGO positions mentioned the need to revise the meal plan. The College, however, is generally unwilling to budge on the current meal plan arrangement, and for good reason.

Many students still do not realize the generous nature of Amherst’s meal plan. Our annual fee for the full meal plan provides for unlimited use of Valentine during its hours of operation, yet it assumes that we will only use Valentine part of the time, and so only charges us for about 60 percent of the cost of an actual 21-meal a week plan. In essence, students who miss every breakfast are actually getting roughly what they pay for, and students who come to every meal, or come more than once for every meal, are getting a bargain. Much of the complaining about the meal plan’s lack of options, therefore, would be hushed if the College simply did a better job in public relations-publicizing to the students these positive financial aspects of its all-inclusive meal plan.

Still, this is a college environment, where most of us eat our last meal several hours after Valentine closes or go out for a slice of pizza now and again. By requiring us to buy into the full meal plan if we live on campus, the college meal plan binds us to a restrictive and often unrealistic meal schedule of 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. So from 7:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. or later, students, especially those whose wallets are thin, are expected not to eat. Also, the required full meal plan by its nature discourages off-campus dining or frugal grocery-shopping, since both would be food costs that are added on to the cost of a full meal plan. At the very least, students, whether living on campus or not, should have the option of opting out of the meal plan altogether and buying into the Off-Campus Meal Plan (O.C.M.P.) or fending for themselves. Three thousand two hundred dollars a year for board is not cheap, and students should have a say in how or where it gets spent.

None of this is meant to say that Valentine Dining Commons is a sub-par place to eat or that we should despise the meal plan. I, for one, love the food in Valentine, and certainly don’t take its generous all-inclusive meal plan for granted. But the College needs to stop taking for granted that all students understand the bargain of the current meal plan and have no desire to eat meals elsewhere or between the hours of 7:30 p.m. and 7:30 a.m. Let’s find a real alternative for students who’d rather buy their own food elsewhere, or who’d rather have breakfast at noon and dinner at midnight.

Steve Ruckman ’01

Unix Can Take Over For VAX
To the Editor:

As a former Computer Science major, Computer Center supervisor, and part-time resident of SMudd, I was shocked and saddened (well, mostly saddened) to learn about the forthcoming demise of the VAX. I fondly recall writing my first Pascal programs on the VAX and subjecting would-be ACC supervisors to tortuous tests of its arcane commands.

However, what truly amazes me is that the campus has not seized this opportunity to embrace its Unix systems. None of your coverage of this issue has mentioned that unix.amherst.edu has long provided many of the same features available on the VAX, including (but not limited to) Pine, plans, “write” (much like “send”) and “talk.” It’s all there, along with IRC and Usenet and all sorts of other fun. And Unix isn’t all that hard; just remember that “help” is spelled “man.” Have fun!

Beth Linker ’98