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The problems with red cards

One of the first experiences new students have on campus is receiving their Campus Cards, commonly referred to as the “Red Card”, from the University Center. This card becomes an ever-present part of campus life from that moment on. It is used everywhere on campus, from the dorms to the library to True Grit’s. Yet, the usefulness of these IDs seems quite limited when compared to similar systems used by other universities.

The first issue that can be found with the card system is the often poorly repaired infrastructure surrounding them. Facebook accounts tell of broken card readers in Patapsco laundry rooms, vending machines in the RLC that refuse to accept card swipes, and breakdowns of card readers in Outtakes that produce queues long enough to be described as “breadlines.” The lack of reliability understandably creates a degree of apprehension to use other resources accessible by card swipe.

Another aspect that limits the usefulness of the campus card is the confusing nature of the values on the Red Cards. There are three main funds on the card: Flex, Food Funds, and Retriever Dollars.

Flex is a value added to the card by a meal plan and can be used to buy food anywhere on campus, as well as at Halethorpe’s Papa John’s. It expires at the end of the semester unless already used. It cannot be added to, except by purchasing a larger meal plan.

Food Funds are very similar to Flex, as it is also usable to buy food anywhere on campus. However, it can also be used at any of the five off-campus merchants that accept the campus card as payment. It can be added to and does not expire.

Retriever Dollars can be used anywhere on campus, as well as for tickets, postage, bills, fines, or a score of other expenditures. It is also acceptable at any of the five off-campus merchants that take the campus card, and it can be added to, but does not expire.

These are three closely related, yet frustratingly different, accounts tied to the same card. Compare this to, say, Towson’s system, that only has a single account tied to their cards: “Funds.” Johns Hopkins also seems to share this streamlined process, with only an identically named “Funds” account attached to their campus cards. Comparatively, the UMBC Campus Card’s account system is a mess.

Lastly, options to use the card off-campus are severely limited. As mentioned previously, UMBC has only five registered outside vendors, only one of which takes Flex. Compared to other schools in the area, UMBC fails utterly. The University of Baltimore has seven, Towson has nineteen,  and John Hopkins has twenty-one outside vendors that accept their card, more than four times as many as UMBC’s.

To remedy this issue there are two main options. First, concerned students can protest within the system by contacting Campus Card and Mail Services, the SGA Senate, or UMBC Dining Services to lodge a complaint. If this fails, students can protest more directly, outside the purview of official procedure. Strikes, rebel picnics in which students distribute food freely instead of using the resources on campus, and general boycotts have all proven effective historically in compelling institutional change.