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Monday, September 19, 2011

C'mon, Fordham! Don't Blame It on Contracts!!

Two weeks ago, Meredith Miller shared news of the fate of the Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) organization of which she is a member.  CSA's are in the news again.  Today's New York Times carried this story describing the demise of "Farm to Fordham," an enterprise started early last year by a Fordham law student that brought fresh produce to the urban university.  

Fordham_Law_School_by_David_Shankbone
Farm to Fordham operates like most CSAs.  Members, which reportedly included Fordham Law's Dean, as well as his predecessor, paid $150/semester for regular delieveries of fresh produce.  As Above the Law points out, Farm to Fordham also tried to do good while doing well: with each delivery, nearly 100 pounds of produce were delivered to a local soup kitchen.  Then, last April, Fordham security refused to open a gate to permit delivery.  The reason for this action is unclear.   

Farm to Fordham founder, Michael Zimmerman, had been notified that his organization needed to apply for a caterer's license in order to continue its operations.  When Zimmerman attempted to do so, he learned that Farm to Fordham was not eligible for such a license because the organization was not a caterer (duh!).  

Soon thereafter received an e-mail from Fordham University's legal counsel stating that the university could not be placed in breach of the law.  But Fordham's own spokesperson had difficulty identifying what law could possibly be breached.  No catering contracts would be breached, as Zimmerman is not running a catering service (and anyway, breach of a private contract is not really the same as breaking the law).  The University also cited concerns about infestations from the produce, but that concern is hardly creditable, given that the produce is distributed outside of any university building.  It may well be true that students bing their produce in to the buildings after collecting it, but unless Fordham is going to institute a ban on all importations of produce into its buildings, it really is not doing very much to prevent such infestations.  

Above the Law provides the following quotation from Mr. Zimmerman:

The University’s most recent rationale for prohibiting community supported agriculture (CSA), nearby construction, is not credible. They came up with that excuse a week ago – six months after first banning the program. Over the intervening months the University has proposed, and Farm to Fordham has disposed with, at least six other rationalizations.

This strongly indicates that the University made its initial determination without a good reason, and has since dug in its heels. We still do not know why the University has chosen to oppose the CSA.

This pattern is all too familiar.  University administrators, like others exercising a form of executive authority, all too often use a shotgun approach, including invocation of sometimes fanciful contractual obligations, in order to shut down an initiative of which they disapprove.  The core reasons for the disapproval remain mysterious for reasons that are themselves mysterious due to a resistance to transparency that is not at all mysterious.

We note that all indications are that the Law School itself has supported Zimmerman and his endeavor to the best of its ability.

[JT]

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