NEWS

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April 7, 2006

SG pushes for revised freshman meal plan

A Student Government (SG) survey conducted last quarter suggests that this year’s modified Bartlett freshman meal plan may be inadequate for some students, according to third-year in the College Andrew Stergachis, an SG-appointed member of the Campus Dining Advisory Board.

The Bartlett freshman plan was cut from 1,100 to 900 points per quarter at the beginning of this academic year.

The new 900-point plan was based on usage data collected over the past few years, according to Sherry Gutman, deputy dean of Housing and Dining. At one dining point approximately equal to a dollar in cash, the reduction came after housing officials brought students’ spending habits into question.

Richard Mason, director of Dining and Housing services, said the data showed that students on the plan clearly had extra points, as many were stocking up on bottled water toward the end of each quarter.

SG surveyed 177 students on the freshman plan. Fifty-six percent of those surveyed said they were satisfied with the current plan, while 44 percent said they were not; 38 percent said they would like to have more meal points.

Donny Copeland, chair of the SG Committee on Campus Services, said that the survey was initiated after some students complained that they did not have enough meal points. He said that the two main issues raised by students were the prices of breakfast and fresh fruits.

“I want more points and not starve,” one student wrote on his survey. Another student wrote, “I buy all my friends meals,” and a third wrote, “Good orange juice should not cost $2.50.”

Based on the results, SG recommended that the freshman plan be increased by 64 points in the short term and that a two-tiered plan consisting of a “Super” and “Basic” freshman plan be created.

Katie Callow-Wright, associate dean of students and director of student housing, said she felt strongly that the new plan should be observed for an additional year before making changes.

She said the survey data from fall and winter quarters were likely not reliable because there is the issue of upperclassmen “mooching” from freshmen.

“There are freshmen who say they need 50, 60 more points; I would bet my bottom dollar they’re spending two or three times that amount supporting their upperclass friends,” she said. “There can be a lot of pressure, you know, ‘Hey, can’t you get my lunch today?’”

Gutman said she agreed. “There’s a culture of older students begging or demanding points from younger students,” she said. “The first-years gotta stop that.”

In response to the survey, Campus Dining Services is working on a “breakfast deal” that would provide breakfast packages at reduced prices, Gutman said. Breakfast at Bartlett currently costs about $8.

“We didn’t think that was what breakfast at Bartlett would cost at the beginning, and that’s not what it feels like it should cost,” Gutman said.

Administrators said they are concerned that students are unclear about how pricing works. For instance, Callow-Wright was told that students are unaware of price differences between salads in ceramic dishes and plastic to-go containers based on their weights.

Callow-Wright said she is also concerned that students have no way of knowing how much their salad or fruits will cost until they reach the cashier’s scale.

She added that she “will explore a fruit and veggie package” similar to the breakfast deal.

“It seems to me that students aren’t getting the value they want for their points,” she said.

Gutman added that possible solutions include lowering the costs of more popular foods and distributing meal points more evenly among lower and upperclassmen.

Mason said that students who desired “greater eating power” should consider purchasing Flex dollars.

Stergachis said that students often do not know what to do with their complaints.

“If people have issues with stuff, writing comment cards really do help,” he said. He also suggested visiting complaints.uchicago.edu, an SG web service to which students can anonymously submit complaints on various aspects of student life.

Callow-Wright added that by 2008 all three dining halls, including one to be built behind Burton-Judson Hall, should enact an “all-you-can-eat, one-door price” as opposed to Bartlett’s current “a la carte” pricing scheme. Callow-Wright said that meals are expected to drop below the current rate of $12 in order to make University dining a more attractive option for students and visitors not on meal plans.