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House Masters Criticize Dining Hall ID Readers

Say Computers Make the Checkers' Desks Less Personal

By Leondra R. Kruger

When sleek black identification card readers replaced the old paper grids on checkers' desks in September, some house masters were skeptical about the future of relations between staff and students.

They still are.

Now the issue of ever-weakening staff-student relation is popping up on meeting agendas all across campus--from house committees to next weekend's Dining Services management retreat.

"It seems like somebody automated something for automation's sake," said Lowell House Master William H. Bossert. "I'm really upset with the policy."

House masters said the card access system is difficult because it is inflexible. Bossert said it is difficult to add friends of the house--the Lowell House Opera conductor, for example--to the system for meals.

But more importantly, many house masters said the card system has weakened an already shaky sense of house solidarity.

Before the electronic system, checkers were all but forced to learn students' names so that they could check them off a huge chart as the students approached.

"I feel, perhaps incorrectly, that it has deleteriously affected the morale in the dining hall," Bossert said, adding that he has noticed "a very distinct cooling" in the relationship between faculty, staff and students.

The old system "was a point of very intimate contact and communication," Bossert said. "Now it's much more an 'us versus them' situation."

In the course of automation, the dining halls have lost their homey atmosphere. Students no longer have someone there to ask, "Gee, are you okay?" when they don't look well at breakfast, Bossert said.

"I like being greeted that way, rather than being treated as a number, to not be able to eat unless you hold a card out," Bossert said.

For house masters who have to obey the Dining Service's wishes, the options for remedying the situation are limited.

Kirkland House Master Donald Pfister said he asked that the ID reader display the house affiliation of the student, so that checkers would get to know who lived in the house and who didn't.

But this addition to the system has had a limited impact, as compared to the old system which required students to identify themselves to the checker, Pfister said.

Now both the students and the checkers lose the benefits of having more intimate contact.

"In my experience, [the checkers] all wanted to do it, a part of their job, a part of they way they felt they were making a difference," Pfister said. "In some ways, they're deprived of that now."

Leverett House Master John E. Dowling, who chairs the House Masters Committee, defended the ID card electronic reader system as an effi- cient means of record-keeping.

"We can't have everything," Dowling said. "Ifwe could somehow still retain that wonderfulrelationship, that would be a terrific thing todo."

Still, as a longtime house master, Dowling hashis own stories of personable dining hall checkerspast.

One recently retired dining hall worker knewwhich students had academic difficulties.

When an exam was coming up and she didn't see aparticular student at breakfast, "she wouldn'thesitate to call them and tell them to come ondown and get breakfast," Dowling said.

Another dining hall staff member made sure thata student, who would often become depressed duringexam periods, would check in at the dininghall--even after that student had movedoff-campus.

Dining Services Director Michael P. Berry saidhe's not sure that he "buys" the stories of thedining hall checkers past, who supposedly knewevery student's birthday and exam schedule.

"Some are very friendly, and some intimidatethe hell out of me," Berry said. "I think it'smore human nature than the [card] access system."

Ultimately, Berry said, the electronic accesssystem makes no difference in the way checkersrelate to students.

"The bottom line is, a friendly checker willknow everyone anyway," Berry said. "The new systemis neither an impediment nor a bonus for them."

However, Berry said, "those who are lessenthusiastic by nature are probably going to usethe access system as more of a crutch."

Berry said Dining Services officials plan toaddress the perceived problem, and have put it onthe agenda for their management retreat nextweekend.

Though no decisions have yet been made, Berrysaid the solution will likely be to have "serviceawareness training" for the checkers.

Dining hall checkers concede that the newautomated system makes it more difficult to get toknow their students.

"With the old system, students had to identifythemselves," said Jane C. Kelley, an Adams Housechecker. "This year it was harder to learnstudents' names, but I really made an effort."

Before she swipes a student's ID card throughthe reader, Kelley said she first looks at thepicture and the student's first name.

Because she already knew the juniors andseniors in the house, she only had to learn thenames of sophomores and transfer students.

"I know all my kids," Kelley said with a smile."I don't want to take away from the personalaspect of being a checker. You have to make aneffort to get the students' names."

Quincy House dining hall checker Aurora G.Medwar said she, too, had to make an effort to getto know incoming sophomores. But the advantages ofthe ID reader outweigh the disadvantages, shesaid.

"It's much easier, and the line goes muchquicker," Medwar said.

But getting to know the students didn't come aseasily as before. "When we used to have thesheets, it took me less than two weeks to get toknow all their names," she said.

Now six months into the academic year Medwar,who describes herself as "very friendly," says sheknows all of the house residents

"We can't have everything," Dowling said. "Ifwe could somehow still retain that wonderfulrelationship, that would be a terrific thing todo."

Still, as a longtime house master, Dowling hashis own stories of personable dining hall checkerspast.

One recently retired dining hall worker knewwhich students had academic difficulties.

When an exam was coming up and she didn't see aparticular student at breakfast, "she wouldn'thesitate to call them and tell them to come ondown and get breakfast," Dowling said.

Another dining hall staff member made sure thata student, who would often become depressed duringexam periods, would check in at the dininghall--even after that student had movedoff-campus.

Dining Services Director Michael P. Berry saidhe's not sure that he "buys" the stories of thedining hall checkers past, who supposedly knewevery student's birthday and exam schedule.

"Some are very friendly, and some intimidatethe hell out of me," Berry said. "I think it'smore human nature than the [card] access system."

Ultimately, Berry said, the electronic accesssystem makes no difference in the way checkersrelate to students.

"The bottom line is, a friendly checker willknow everyone anyway," Berry said. "The new systemis neither an impediment nor a bonus for them."

However, Berry said, "those who are lessenthusiastic by nature are probably going to usethe access system as more of a crutch."

Berry said Dining Services officials plan toaddress the perceived problem, and have put it onthe agenda for their management retreat nextweekend.

Though no decisions have yet been made, Berrysaid the solution will likely be to have "serviceawareness training" for the checkers.

Dining hall checkers concede that the newautomated system makes it more difficult to get toknow their students.

"With the old system, students had to identifythemselves," said Jane C. Kelley, an Adams Housechecker. "This year it was harder to learnstudents' names, but I really made an effort."

Before she swipes a student's ID card throughthe reader, Kelley said she first looks at thepicture and the student's first name.

Because she already knew the juniors andseniors in the house, she only had to learn thenames of sophomores and transfer students.

"I know all my kids," Kelley said with a smile."I don't want to take away from the personalaspect of being a checker. You have to make aneffort to get the students' names."

Quincy House dining hall checker Aurora G.Medwar said she, too, had to make an effort to getto know incoming sophomores. But the advantages ofthe ID reader outweigh the disadvantages, shesaid.

"It's much easier, and the line goes muchquicker," Medwar said.

But getting to know the students didn't come aseasily as before. "When we used to have thesheets, it took me less than two weeks to get toknow all their names," she said.

Now six months into the academic year Medwar,who describes herself as "very friendly," says sheknows all of the house residents

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