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Published: Oct 21, 2021 3 min read
Cafeteria worker prepares individual plates for students
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Worker shortages have hit college cafeterias hard — so hard, in fact, that at least one university is asking full-time faculty members to flip burgers and wipe tables in the interim.

The worst part? They won’t even get paid for their efforts.

“Faculty and staff from around campus are invited to sign up to assist in the dining halls!” a senior administrator at Michigan State University wrote in an email to colleagues that included an attached form asking participants to agree “to do this volunteer work for civic, charitable or humanitarian reasons” and to acknowledge they were “not coerced or required” to do so.

The email circulated around social media earlier this week, and asked academic staffers — a field that, on the whole, is already teetering "on the verge of burnout," according to the Chronicle of Higher Education — to help fill in during their downtime.

“We have specific needs during evenings and weekends," it reads. "I ask that you share this message with your departments and units.”

The request underscores a nationwide labor shortage that has hit college campuses, which traditionally rely on low-wage workers to run their dining, custodial and maintenance divisions, particularly hard. The University of Iowa recently asked faculty members to volunteer to work a weekend football game, the Chronicle reports. Other colleges, like the Universities of Wyoming and Michigan at Ann Arbor, are scrambling to hire bus drivers — a problem elementary schools throughout the country are also facing.

For K-12 schools and universities alike, staffing shortages exacerbate the ever-worsening challenges of keeping classrooms open during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Michigan State, for one, started the school year down thousands of student employees, and about 70 full-time culinary staffers, according to the Chronicle. Things appear to be looking up: The university has hired enough dining hall workers to move from needing to fill 90 shifts a day to 50 shifts, according to Inside Higher Ed. Still, faculty quoted in that story say Michigan State has yet to find a single faculty member “willing to volunteer.”

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