After Coke, SRC tries to find its role

By Sara Nelson

As discussions surrounding the issue of Coca-Cola sales on campus have gone flat, Macalester’s Social Responsibility Committee (SRC) has found itself without any high-profile issues to tackle and is searching to find its place on a campus where visible engagement with the committee seems to be waning.The committee’s first meeting of the academic year was scheduled for yesterday but was not expected to take place as planned. Instead, committee chair Marjorie Merryman and Dean of Students Laurie Hamre met with the committee’s student representatives to discuss their role.

Trudy Rebert ’07, one of the two student members of the committee, said the student representatives were not chosen until early November. She said she was still unsure of the committee’s upcoming business because the full committee had not yet met.

According to former SRC member History Professor Peter Rachleff, Coca-Cola was the only issue the SRC dealt with during the time he was a member of the committee last academic year. The committee has yet to add any new issues to its agenda.

“We don’t see it as our role to come up with things,” Merryman said, explaining that the committee now only considers issues students or other bring forward to the committee. “If no one comes forward with anything, then we don’t have anything to do.”

In March, the SRC voted unanimously to ban Coca-Cola products from campus following similar decisions by a handful of colleges throughout the country, largely aimed at holding the company accountable for allegations of human rights violations in Colombia.

Nearly two months after the committee’s initial decision, President Brian Rosenberg announced that he would not support the SRC’s recommendation. In a letter to the SRC, he called a ban on Coke products on campus “premature.”

Merryman said that the committee met following Rosenberg’s decision and agreed with the president’s judgment in light of news last spring that the International Labor Office of the United Nations would conduct an independent investigation into allegations against Coca-Cola in Colombia.

Still, Rosenberg’s decision left Rachleff and others on campus opposed to Coca-Cola miffed. According to an e-mail Merrymen sent to Rosenberg, Rachleff did not attend the SRC’s meeting following Rosenberg’s decision.

“Hundreds of colleges and universities have banned Coca-Cola, so it’s not like [the committee’s] decision was unique,” he said. “It was a unanimous decision from a committee that had faculty, staff, student and administration representation on it.”

Though Rachleff is critical of the administration’s response to SRC decisions, he said he is still supportive of the idea behind the committee.

“I’ve argued since I’ve been here that Macalester should strive to be an exemplary institution, not just offer an exemplary education,” Rachleff said. “It should be an exemplary employer, it should be an exemplary property owner, an exemplary customer. It should conduct itself in a way that sets a model for what the community we live in and the world that we live in should be like”

He said that a body such as the SRC, through holding the institution accountable, should be one of the ways of making sure Macalester lives up to its ideals.

“One of the ways to put it is…the importance of walking the talk,” Rachleff said. “Macalester has a lot of talk. An institution like the social responsibility committee would be a way to make sure that, collectively, we walk the talk.”

Merryman said the committee should serve as a “repository” for students concerned with issues of social responsibility on campus.

“The SRC is the place to come with those kinds of issues,” she said.

Rachleff said that the administration has constrained the ability of the SRC to do its job effectively, which has pushed it into a more passive position in dictating the future direction of the college.

“I’m now late in my career and in my life and I’ve been around lots of organizations where well-meaning people come together, then find their scope of power so restricted that they become demoralized and stop trying,” he said.

Rachleff cited the example of the administration’s refusal to divulge information about Macalester’s investments when the SRC requested it in Spring 2004, in an effort to help make those investments as socially responsible as possible, as an example of one of the ways the administration has limited the actions of the committee.

“We certainly live in a time period where various…individuals and institutional investors, try to divest themselves of companies that they think misbehave and invest in companies that they think set good examples,” he said. “The committee was actually denied information to take a more active stance. We were told by the administration that through mutual funds, we invest in everything and so asking a question like that is meaningless.”

Erik Forman ’08 who was active in the Student Labor Action Coalition’s (SLAC) attempts to get the college to remove Coca-Cola products from campus, echoed similar sentiments regarding the SRC’s role on campus.

“The SRC is useless,” he said. “How could it be anything more? [The SRC] was a barrier the administration tried to construct between themselves and the students in order to manage and ultimately sidestep student concerns. How can they expect us to stay within the system when the system completely ignores us?”