Ithaca College President ignores ethics
By Mark Harrison, TNC contributing writer
Protesters at Ithaca College (in New York State) relinquished
control of the Administration Office last December--ending a
39-hour sit-in--when officials agreed to review the school's
food service policy and contract with Sodexho Marriott Services
(SMS). President Peggy Williams announced her decision to retain
the contract with SMS on March 19, 2001 in a statement that ignored
the ethical question of forcing students to support the scandal-ridden
private prison company, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA),
with their food dollars.
Students spend $1.2 billion nationwide on food provided by SMS.
Parent company Sodexho Alliance is the principle investor in
CCA. Low wages and poor training have led to a 70 percent turnover
rate in the prison company's security personnel--a new staff
every 18 months--that has resulted in prisoner abuse, escape
and neglect. Ironically, though not surprisingly, CCA lobbies
for tougher sentencing laws and gave $353,106 to 95 candidates
in 16 states in 1998 to effect an increase in prison population,
according to a report by the Western Prison Project. CCA also
has influence in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC),
a right-wing organization, whose members include almost half
the state legislature, that pushes for privatized prisons and
harsher punishment for criminals
Dr. Peggy Williams explained in her statement that the Ithaca
administration had met the "terms of the agreement"
negotiated with the Young Democratic Socialists (YDS), the organization
that staged the sit-in. She expressed the students' concerns
to Sodexho Alliance CEO Pierre Bellon in a letter approved by
the protestors and Bellon responded. "Despite the very low
CCA share price, I am personally involved in looking for buyers
and committed to divesting as soon as possible." But Bellon
has otherwise acknowledged that CCA is too vulnerable financially
to sustain a withdrawal of Sodexho support. Kevin Pranis of Not
With Our Money!, the organization opposing Sodexho Marriott Services
in 400-plus campuses in the U.S. and Canada, believes Bellon
has no intention of divesting and is only stalling to diffuse
unrest on campuses and more negative publicity. Pranis says that
most schools have a 90-day termination clause and that students
and faculty should give the world's largest institutional caterer
an ultimatum: divest from CCA or terminate the food service contract.
President Williams has studied the issue to her satisfaction.
"Ithaca College administration has conducted extensive research
on the issue of private prisons and the relationship of SMS and
its parent company, Sodexho Alliance, to the private prison industry."
The "extensive research" the president speaks of was
done "with open minds, in the spirit of academic inquiry,
without any predetermined outcome." Independent and objective
specialists were consulted. "We engaged outside experts
to provide us with objective information on and analysis of criminal
justice issues and prison privatization as well as insights into
the food service industry and the implications of different possible
decisions." Among the "experts" that Williams
consulted with were Professor Michael Jacobson of the John Jay
College of Criminal Justice; Strategic Communications, a research
and public affairs firm; and John Cornyn of the Cornyn Fasano
Group, a food service management consulting firm. It's not surprising
that these "objective" experts supported President
Williams in her decision to continue funding prisons for profit
with student food dollars.
The students' call to terminate Ithaca's contract with SMS was
rejected, but pressure continues to mount for the food provider
on campuses nationwide as rallies and other direct actions are
cosponsored by numerous organizations that include Not With Our
Money!, Prison Moratorium Project, Young Democratic Socialists,
The TEA (Teaching Educational Activism) Society, The African-American
Student Union, Food Not Bombs, Solidarity and Unity Now and others.
Ithaca College President Williams reasoned in her statement that
she could not justify spending more college funds searching for
a new food service provider, yet the Young Democratic Socialists
at Ithaca point out that the college spends over $480,000 each
year on the president's office.