The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 66.0°F | A Few Clouds

Dorms May Pay Fee for Cafeterias

By Karen Kaplan
Executive Editor

The House Dining Committee yesterday distributed copies of their proposal for keeping dormitory dining halls open for another year without having them incur any more debt. The committee will make recommendations very similar to those in the proposal to Senior Vice President William R. Dickson on Friday.

At the center of the proposal is a recommendation to have all residents of Baker House, MacGregor House, McCormick Hall, and Next House pay a flat fee of $1,300 per year to become members of the House Dining System. In exchange for membership, which is mandatory, students will be able to buy food in the dining halls for 35 percent of the normal retail price. All other patrons of house dining halls will have to pay full retail prices, as will dining system members when they eat at Lobdell Court, Networks, or Morss Hall in Walker Memorial.

If adopted, the system will run for a trial period of one year, beginning this fall.

Professor of History William B. Watson, who chairs the dining committee, said the plan was the best solution available given the constraints faced by the committee. The majority of respondents to a survey distributed before spring break in Baker, MacGregor, McCormick, and Next preferred to keep the dining halls open. But that can only be done if the deficits run by these dining halls are brought under control.

"More than 50 percent of those surveyed said they wanted to eat in the dining halls," said Seth M. Cohen '92, a member of the committee. "We tried to produce a reasonable system for students and minimize what the students have to pay in terms of a requirement."

Watson said the proposed system, which covers the fixed costs of operating the dining halls outright, will allow for more flexibility. "Now we're pinching the dining hall program because we're worried about cost," he explained. "This will give us more flexibility to improve the quality of food services."

Committee member Emily R. Prenner '93 explained that changes in the current system had to be made because the dining halls lose approximately half a million dollars each year. "What would happen if we kept things the way they are now? The dining halls would progressively lose more and more money, and in the end we'd be forced to close them down," she said.

Watson said the committee felt a strong need to maintain the dining halls because they "contribute to community welfare and student welfare." "We think the dining halls perform a very essential function," he said. "If those houses didn't have dining halls, ... the culture there would be very much diminished."

According to survey results, when asked how much they thought dining halls contributed to the culture of the houses, 38.3 percent of the students responded "a fair amount," and another 38 percent responded "a great deal." The survey's response rate was 46 percent, which Watson called a "tremendously high rate of return."

The committee, consisting of six students, two faculty members, two representatives from the Undergraduate Academic Affairs Office, two members of the Housing and Food Services staff, and one representative from ARA, has been meeting since February. Watson predicted that Dickson would act on the committee's proposal within one month, and possibly within two weeks.

Other proposals considered

The major alternatives to the plan presented to students were creating a more restrictive mandatory meal plan and shutting the dining halls down altogether.

"Some people were saying, `Well, they live in dorms that have dining facilities, and they ought to pay for them, so we ought to charge them for 15 meals a week,' " Watson said. "We have a scheme with a two-tier pricing system. You pay something up front and get the benefits for the rest of the year. It's much better than any alternative."

Closing down the dining halls presented problems as well. "There are other impacts," Cohen said. "In Next House, there are no kitchen facilities, so people would have to eat elsewhere. Or you get people trying to cook in their rooms, violating fire codes," he explained. Cohen also noted that it would be far more expensive to install more kitchen facilities in Next House than to keep the dining hall open.

Student reaction

Baker resident Daniel E. Sabanosh '94 said he is not pleased with the plan. "That much money up front -- it's a lot of money ... we figured it's about $2000 to make you break even," he said. Sabanosh said the proposal is less flexible for lunches, and at this point he'd rather have Baker's dining facility close down than have to pay the $1300.

"I pretty much oppose [the plan] because I'm probably going to end up spending $1300 on food this year. Next year I would have spent this much without any food, so I'd end up losing money," said Michael S. Phillips '94, who also lives in Baker.

Next House resident Kerry C. Forbes '93 said, "I hate [the proposal]! They say you only need $500 to feed you all semester [with the 35 percent discount] -- that makes it $1800, and they're taking away my selection. If I'm on the other side of campus, it's a pain to walk all the way back. And at lunch it's a given that Baker and McCormick will be crowded."

When asked if she knew anyone who liked the plan, she could only think of Next's two House Dining Committee members.

"Why don't we just pay $1800, screw the overhead, and let us eat wherever we want without feeling like we're losing?" Forbes added. She said many students she talked to were willing to pay a $2000 cover charge so that they could eat anywhere on campus. "We don't want this limited selection," Forbes said. Also, because the overhead, which includes labor, will be paid beforehand, "no one has motivation to make good food," she said.