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The power of the swipe

BY CHRIS CLARK | OCTOBER 02, 2009 7:20 AM

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I tend not to carry cash in my wallet.

That could be a statement about my bank account or about the proliferation of plastic money.

Regardless, all UI students get those plastic golden tickets — their student ID cards — and can use them in so many places on campus: A late night snack at Burge? A little Food for Thought in the library? Lunch at the IMU River Room? Swipe it.

Right now, Coca-Cola machines in the residence halls take plastic payment. Of those, most only accept Hawkeye Dollars, which can only be obtained with the purchase of university meal plans. Some are actually capable of charging items to the U-bill.

But by broadening the card’s scope of power to all campus vending machines, students would just have one more way to grab a drink while rushing to class or a snack when the late-night study munchies kick in. And for UI officials, the machines’ increased accessibility could win over students who would otherwise go to the Den to get a cheaper — and typically larger — refreshment, possibly bringing in more revenue for the university. Though it probably wouldn’t be much, the administration should take any extra money it can shake out of our pockets.

College students are poor, and it’s easy to run out of money. Let’s face it: Many students have their parents pay their U-bills. And it takes some of us longer than others to get used to not having our moms around to pack us lunch. So, after a long day of classes, or at the beginning of a longer night of studying, a quick swipe of the student IDs could give students access to a treasure chest of goodies.

And it seems UI officials are moving in a favorable direction. University spokesman Tom Moore called the current dorm program a “pilot phase” and said positive feedback may motivate officials to “make the program more widely available, at least in other high-student-traffic areas.”

When the positive feedback comes in, as I assume it will, a wider variety of snacks should become available. Beware, though, a trend such as this could easily go too far. Starting my junior year in high school, we were able to use our student IDs at the vending machines by simply depositing some money into an account. It quickly became a popular way of paying for food. But senior year, administrators brought in a Tyson chicken machine. That may sound good, but after eating the soggy, luke-warm chicken sandwich, well … I think you get the point.

At the UI Student Government level, representatives said there has been informal discussion about the possibility of pushing for a campuswide policy, but it hasn’t been a priority.

“We haven’t thought about writing legislation [on the issue] or anything,” UISG Sen. Cassie Creasy said. “It would take too long to go through the entire bureaucratic process while we’re already working on a number of issues.”

With its plate quite full this year, I agree that UISG should not spend excessive time writing a formal proposal on the issue. But I think it should contact UI officials to encourage an expeditious expansion.

Kyle Schwarz, the chairman of the Student Assembly Budgeting and Allocating Committee, said he is in favor of pushing the policy forward, which he felt has been stagnant since the summer.

“The first step is making sure the older vending machines are capable of [such technology] to see if we would have to spend money on new machines,” the senior said.

I’m not encouraging students to start a vending-machine diet. I’m simply calling for what should be a simple augmentation of an existing program. The ultimate benefit of a policy such as this is convenience and to save a little time and aggravation when the machine repeatedly regurgitates your crumpled bill.


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