McDonald’s U.

Elton Wong

In my sociology class, we’re currently reading a book called “The McDonaldization of Society,” by George Ritzer. This book is a discussion of the fast food way of thinking and the way this mentality has permeated many other aspects of our lives.

The goal of a McDonald’s is not to provide great food, nor to provide personal service. McDonald’s definitely does not exist to expose people to new things. Instead, McDonald’s and all fast food chains seek to churn out identical, predictable food, that will be turned out exactly the same whether you’re in a small town in the Midwest or abroad in France.

One way McDonald’s revolutionized food production was to transform the restaurant into a sort of factory, an assembly line.

Instead of a team of chefs working to prepare the food, the process of food production was broken down into a series of discrete steps, and a different person was devoted to each. Every step is subject to strict control.

No matter where you are in the world, the grillman at McDonald’s will always have the same number of hamburgers on the grill, and they will always be flipped in the same order.

The person who assembles the hamburger will place the specified amount of ketchup, mustard and onion on each McBurger, so that all burgers end up being identical.

The reduction of the cooking process in this way means that the human element is taken out of the process. There is no cook who experiments with different food preparations, there is no variation from company-specified procedures at all. This way, employees are easily replaced because their tasks are so standardized.

This is commonly called the “rationalization” of production. This is not “rationalization” in the sense of a justification, but rather the application of rational principles to an process or procedure.

Instead of concentrating on cooking and serving good food to people, McDonald’s is concerned with the number of units sold, the number of people processed and the amount of profit made.

This process is also referred to as quantification, because the qualitative aspects of the food served, the atmosphere and the overall experience of the diner are seen as important only inasmuch as they affect profits. The whole restaurant is stripped down to what it most essentially is — a money-making enterprise.

Thus, workers are simply money-making units that are kept in line by virtue of their replaceability.

This is in spite of the fact that they are made to do repetitive, standardized tasks; a job a robot could do. An atmosphere of fear and repression results.

Oh no, wait, the book didn’t mention fear or repression. I must have been thinking about something else.

Anyway, it seems that there are a great many parallels to be drawn between McDonald’s and the modern university. Just like McDonald’s exists to get you from hungry to full in the most efficient and profitable way possible, the university exists to get you from high school into a well-paying job the same way.

This is more true of some departments than others, of course, and more true of some schools than others.

Some universities hardly pretend to be educational institutions at all and have “McClasses” and “McDegrees” only to support the real profitable enterprises: research and taking money from rich alumni.

Whenever a professor gets a money-making patent or works for an industry, Iowa State … um, I mean our hypothetical example university gets a healthy cut.

More research means more prestige which means more donation from alumni. Educating students is not nearly as profitable because student fees are pretty much constant.

In addition, curricula and degree programs are so standardized that the job of the professor as educator is pretty much limited to a set routine. The university must think that all professors are interchangeable and expendable with respect to teaching.

The trend toward McDonaldization is difficult to fight against. There is nothing more difficult than telling powerful people that there may be something more important than profit. But sometimes important battles can be taken up, fought and won.

Today, the Student Environmental Council will be at a table in the Union with a petition.

This petition is meant to convince the ISU administration to withdraw university investments from those corporations that are members of the Global Climate Coalition, a lobbying/public misinformation group that tries to convince people that there is no such thing as global warming.

The group spends millions in efforts to thwart global agreements on controlling emissions. The blatantly selfish and pernicious actions of the GCC have earned them widespread criticism. Even the Christian Coalition, not normally considered a hotbed of environmental activism, has publicly condemned the GCC.

Currently, Iowa State has investments in two corporations that are members of the GCC. Divestment campaigns similar to Iowa State’s current one have been staged and won in many universities across the country. In addition, public outcry has caused Ford and Shell to drop their memberships.

As a philosophy major, I figure that I’ll have to get used to using the phrase “would you like fries with that?” But as long as I’m handing over my money to this university, I should be able to say “no, I would not like to be fried with that.”

Stop by the petition table today and fight irresponsible investment. Even at a corporation like Iowa State, there are more important things than the bottom line.

Elton Wong is a junior in philosophy and biology from Ames. He has high friends in places.