Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Canteen Story - By E.F. Bartholomeusz - BIRTH OF AN IDEA

From today we serialise "The Canteen Story" written by late Professor E.F. Bartholomeusz


The three young men who walked into my room one uneventful evening in the late 1960's evidently had matters of importance on their minds. To my initial amazement they appeared to have come to voice their dissatisfaction with the prevailing canteen services, which were provided on private contract at the time.

Those were hard times and the fare in the canteen was understandably restricted to tea and cigarettes - its mainstay - with a few peripheral offerings of foods. The service itself had deteriorated with time and become desultory and unreliable, much to the general distress. It was evident from the preliminary remarks of the evening that the limits of tolerance had been reached, and that change was on demand. Such sentiments were widespread and by no means new but had, in the prevailing apathy, long been abandoned by the members of the faculty as a topic for serious discussion. I listened to them with puzzlement and some relief tempered however, by a troubling expectation that there was more to come. Indeed, there was!

"Well, what do you propose?" It I queried in my bewilderment, and received the astonishing reply that the E-Fac student union take over the management and direction of the canteen!

"Where, then, do I come in?" I asked in alarm. 

"We seek your support and request that you present our proposal to the Dean for his approval", they replied.

"Have any of you run a canteen or any other business for a matter of that?" I asked.

"No", they answered. "Well, neither have I. Now what makes you think that we can pull off a venture like this from our present position of total ignorance?" I ventured.

There was silence at this implied rebuke and an evident disappointment that soon kindled in me a sense of regret at being unwittingly dismissive of a proposition that might, after all, prove to be a worthwhile undertaking, if rightly approached and handled with discretion.

"Let us meet in a week", I told them finally, "this needs thinking in more depth taking into account matters like objectives, management, representation, and finance."

With that we parted.

We met a week later with our separate positions on these questions, and after lengthy discussion were able to agree that:

1. Service to the E-Fac community at all levels be the central objective of this enterprise.

2. Management be fully representative. 

3. Finance be subject to regulation by a managing authority bound by strict accountability.

4. Profit be subordinated to service.

5. Conditions of service of canteen staff be those of the permanent public service in respect of leave (both casual and medical) and tenure.

And finally, as a measure of financial prudence, that:

6. Preliminary assessments of the project's viability be based on the premise that income was derived from profits from tea alone.

A scheme structured broadly to these specifications was now formulated for the Dean's approval and I was delegated to conduct this delicate negotiation.

The Dean, Professor E.O. E. Pereira, as those who knew him well might expect, was attracted to the idea but insisted on a guarantee that the academic commitments of the students involved be in no way jeopardized by this enterprise. Such a guarantee was up to the students themselves and clearly demanded their release from the more pedestrian day to day management duties. These assurances were given in terms acceptable to the Dean and finally won us his approval. The road to implementation was now open.

News of these happenings filtered through the faculty and won us valued adherents from other sectors who joined us in setting up an ad-hoc planning committee dedicated to the task of devising strategies to guide this initiative from these hesitant beginnings to implementation.

Read Part 2: Opening moves - research and report

1 comment:

  1. I wish I was one of those students as I had experience of business running a grocery shop of my late father on my own when I was 9 years old at weekends as he was an entrepreneur with other work as a PWD contractor for civil and building work .I came across this site by chance and I hope to share some of my memories at Efac..


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