Just business
March 16, 2013
March 16, 2013

This month, DLSU bade farewell to our University canteen for 35 years, Zaide Food Corp. Whether it was for economic reason or otherwise, the circumstances surrounding the canteen’s departure from service deserve a second look from the University community that it has been a part of for so long.

A quick survey would reveal the sprouting up of new establishments along Taft Avenue as a threat to the old college canteen’s performance. Even the canteen staff admits that unregulated Agno is sought by students for its cheaper meals, while those with pickier palates and higher purchasing power look for the sit-down meals at the University Mall. And of course, there is La Casita, with its hegemony of Razon and Andrew.


As compared to when I was a first year student, the number of dining establishments has more than doubled along Taft Avenue. Back then, McDonalds and the University Mall were being renovated, and the steak at Rap’s was still less than Php 150. Eateries opened up after eight o’clock in the morning, and the only place open inside the University was Zaide.


Because of this, I always came to Zaide for breakfast and treated it as a place where I could prepare myself for the day’s tribulations in peace. While I did not eat their famous ‘spagketchup,’ I used to order tamban and tomatoes and a sunny-side up egg, with fried rice. While eating, I always watched the other patrons: the student wolfing corned beef while poring through notes for the morning exam, the instructor intently deboning tuyo, the admin secretary laughing over breakfast with her fellow secretaries before they report to their offices. Zaide smacked of a bygone, more tightly knit La Salle where everyone got together, where the original Zaide went table-to-table to greet those who broke the fast in his canteen in the DLSU where everyone knew each other.


Zaide built a sense of community for the Lasallian institution and was formerly the mainstay in a majority of Luzon-based La Salle schools. In the Taft campus, it provided for students, faculty, and staff, and cooked the food for the residents of the fourth floor of the LS building free of charge. Zaide also sponsors scholars with its revenues, shouldering part of students’ tuition fees and giving them meals and beverages, gratis.


Zaide also catered for the University’s ceremonies and alumni homecoming parties, for book launches and professorial lectures, for faculty meetings and student general assemblies. In so doing, it shared in the University’s life, a welcome part of its community, one with its triumphs and its trials. In personal interviews, more than a few of Zaide’s employees have affirmed that it is the support and honest love that the Lasallian community provides that keeps them from seeking out opportunities abroad.


And Zaide’s employees are not entirely unhappy people themselves. While they have much work to do, management saw to it to give them the right benefits to spur them on. Zaide also employed its fair share of competent, educated senior citizens, who would otherwise be forced to retire (without benefits, even) by more ‘progressive’ businesses and agencies for younger labor.


But Zaide remains a business, nonetheless. Competition edged out the venerable institution that was the canteen despite its many years of service. High fixed costs, answering for its concessionaries’ overhead, and fees collected by the University may have led to the canteen’s reconsideration of its position.


Despite Zaide’s active involvement in the life of the community, what might stand as an issue is how easily the canteen was let go of. Perhaps it might have been different if such a move was done in consultation with more sectors of the University who would appreciate the canteen’s impact on daily life from a less than economic perspective. Maybe the canteen will not technically be worse off, as Zaide will be provided a compensation package for leaving the University, in the form of other schools to serve and less costs to maintain. But the gesture suggests how swiftly the University ushers in change with less sentimentality and consultation than one might expect.


Br. Bloemen hall, where the college canteen was, will be transformed into a new student center that would have a special area for musical performances. It was a plan approved by stakeholders, including administrators, certain faculty, and students. While very laudable in thinking for the students, do students really need a new student center when they already have one, and have sufficient space to interact in the new building’s couch-laden library and its soundproof discussion rooms?


Not to say that all change is bad. But management theory teaches that change has to add value to what an organization has to offer; otherwise, the organization will be swept up with the lack of impact of new proposals and opportunities that may or may not sustain the organization’s vision.


Sometimes for the sake of progress the University might be tempted to sever ties with people it has long worked for the ‘greater good’. Uprooting community institutions like Zaide might, but an instiution like ours, a non-profit, Catholic Lasallian institution, may need to re-examine its values, remember its vision towards one united Lasallian community, and see whether or not the changes it decides to adopt truly do bring its community in closer communion with each other.  Otherwise, such values would no longer matter and decisions remain merely as transactions and not enablers of change, just business, nothing more, nothing less.