Stealing from Campus: Vigilantes or Kleptomaniacs?

text by Naomi Kreitman / image by Patrik Goethe via Unsplash

Are UCU students suffering from chronic digestive problems? There’s no need to consult a doctor to find out why our campus uses “three times as much toilet paper as is normal in other UU buildings.”

This issue doesn’t end with toilet paper – Kees Jan Spronsen, Dining Hall manager, reports that since August “more than one third of all cutlery” has been taken, and that theft of food items “happens a lot.”

Spronsen and Maarten Diederix, UCU’s Housemaster, share the view that stealing food from Dining Hall should be treated criminally. Diederix explained that historically, UCU has turned a blind eye to theft because in UCU’s infancy, “there was a reluctance to publicize” the fact there were issues with students stealing from campus.” Because over a decade ago management chose not to risk tarnishing the name of the college, casual, comfortable theft is commonplace on campus.

Gyles Kemper (real name withheld), an international second year student, considers himself a “dining hall crusader.” He sees helping himself to campus toilet paper, cutlery and crockery as an act of “moral convenience,” a marriage of the two things one desires most in their homeware; justice and efficiency. Kemper explains that many students are “so jaded with the system that they don’t feel like abiding by the rules it imposes upon them.” He discusses the “extortionate campus fees,” and thinks that Sodexo, the company running our cafeteria, is “just looking to make more money by exaggerating the prices.”
Here lies our campus catch-22. Is Sodexo robbing the students, with their outrageous liquid gold ketchup? Or are the students rejecting one of the most fundamental conventions of civilized society, casually taking what they know is not rightfully theirs?

Yara Vrolijks, a second year Dutch student, thinks that stealing from the institution is “not a good way to fight for justice,” since it only profits the individual, and does not have any effect on the fees. In fact, it affects other students negatively, forcing them to use plastic cutlery because so much metal cutlery has been taken. She is not convinced by the proclamation of moral righteousness, and instead sees the widespread stealing as a “sign that students here are lazy.

“Maybe it’s my morals – I don’t feel the need to steal,” she says.

Diederix, Housemaster, also sees Kemper’s justification as a flawed argument; “the government steals from me, who doesn’t? It’s a made up reason. Very bad logic.” Furthermore, students considering their theft an act of rebellion are in fact unproductive, as it does not directly affect the fees or prices. Stealing toilet paper “happens a lot but it’s not on our (UCU’s) bill, it’s on the general UU cleaning contract,” and therefore does not have a direct effect on UCU finances.

Spronsen, the Dining Hall manager, demonstrates how misguided the students’ complaints are, explaining that the “UU decides on the prices,’” not Sodexo. However, when pressed several times Spronsen failed to explain this in more depth, eventually admitting that the prices of “some luxury products,” accounting to “20% of total products,” are, in fact, decided by Sodexo. The exact system of pricing, and the reason the Universiteit Utrecht is apparently deciding what students will pay for a slice of bread, was left foggy. However, this means that “dining hall crusaders” using Sodexo’s pricing as a justification to steal may be barking up the wrong tree.

Jake Hillman, a Canadian exchange student with an outside perspective, extends the irrelevance of the pricing in this discussion. With fees high or low, ‘our generation, and age group, has a sense of entitlement […] it’s a phenomenon the world over.’ He believes changes in pricing would not change the amount of items stolen.

Diederix, Housemaster, recognizes the problem with this sense of entitlement, but remains positive. He sees it as a result of students treating “campus as their home and garden.” Despite his frustration at small acts of vandalism, he commends how generally “considerate” the students are. He thinks that as a result of living in such a small, closed off community, students feel more responsibility towards their surroundings, but also more entitlement, just as one would feel comfortable taking a cup out of their kitchen and into their bedroom at home.

So perhaps stealing from campus is in fact a manifestation of the warm, friendly, almost communal way of life here at UCU. Whether this theft is a venting of frustration, or an indulgence of the lazy kleptomaniac inside, it is very much part of the campus socialism that makes UCU unique.


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