March 10, 2009

Upperclassmen can retain minimum option in finalized unlimited meal plan

Housing and Dining Office administrators unveiled their revised meal plan for next year, which will feature an unlimited number of meals for students, in an open forum Wednesday. The plan, initially proposed last quarter, is designed to accompany a number of changes to the University dining plan scheduled for next year, including the opening of the South Campus dining hall and the adoption of all-you-can-eat dining at Bartlett. The meeting largely fleshed out specific details that hadn’t been addressed last quarter.

The University will require all entering students and current first-years to sign on to the plan, which they expect to be slightly cheaper than the current freshman plan, priced at $5,109, according to Cheryl Gutman, deputy dean of students, housing, and dining services. The plan will include unlimited entry into the three dining halls during their hours of operation, $100 in Flex, and five guest meals, or chances to swipe in those not on the meal plan. Rising third- and fourth-years may opt for the minimum or moderate plans next fall, but no students graduating after the class of 2011 will have that option.

“It will be like going to the library—you can go in and out as often as you want,” Gutman said.

Maintaining the unique House Tables, totems of the University’s emphasis on house community, was of utmost importance to the new plan’s designers, she said. “We would just close Pierce [dining hall] if we wanted to make financial sense,” Gutman said, noting its proximity to Bartlett. But housing administrators decided to keep the Pierce dining hall open in order to preserve tables specifically designated for students from each Pierce house, Maclean, and Broadview.

“Where you live and where you eat have something to do with each other [at this University],” Gutman said. “At other schools, the two functions are underrated, but that House Table system is key to the development of community in the houses and key to a first-year’s transition experience.”

Gutman said the University strives to have one unified dining system in place for all students. “The overall theory behind this entire plan was to make it more equitable across all four years,” she said. “We are grandfathering those people who would have seen a radical increase in price from this year to next year… but this is just the transition plan.”

According to Gutman, the University would be unable to complete this transition if it did not charge rising second-years for the unlimited plan. “We would have to charge first-years even more than we’re charging them this year” to break even, she said.

The new plan will cost about $2,000 more than the minimum plan currently offered to upperclassman, which has rankled some who had hoped to switch to the lower-cost plan.

But Katie Callow-Wright, director of undergraduate student housing, is not convinced that the new meal plan will drive students out of housing: “I think there are other incentives to people to stay in housing [besides the price of food]. Look at BJ: their lowest meal plan option is a moderate, [now $3,459], and yet 60 percent of students there are upperclassmen.”

Student reaction had been mixed.

Second-year Gal Oppenheimer supported the change, noting that the new plan will be cheaper for first-year students than the current one. “First-years are the main people who use the dining hall. It’s not right to punish them so upperclassmen can pay less,” Oppenheimer said.

But first-year Becky Durling said she dislikes how the new meal plan will restrict students’ ability to share their meal points with upperclassmen—something she does regularly with her cross-country teammates. “[The new plan] will get rid of the bonding between the grades because the upperclassmen will have to eat in their apartments,” she said.