Dining Committee Recommneds Keeping Status Quo in DormsBy Reuven M. Lerner
Unable to find a way to make dormitory dining halls economically viable, the House Dining Committee has recommended that the Institute maintain the status quo until the campus dining situation can be evaluated completely.
Senior Vice President William R. Dickson '56, who charged the committee and will make the ultimate decision regarding the dining halls, is expected to make a formal announcement sometime today.
The proposal is the committee's fourth in the last two weeks. The proposalswere designed to find a solution to the problem posed by the dining halls in Baker House, MacGregor House, McCormick Hall, and Next House, which have lost between $500,000 and $750,000 for each of the last five years. MIT is looking to institute the profit-and-loss system in these dining halls. Under the profit-and-loss system, which is already in place at Morss Hall in Walker Memorial and at Lobdell Court, ARA keeps the profits made by a facility, but the company is also responsible for any losses.
"I would be sorry myself if they kept it just as it is. I would prefer it if they kept it the way it was the previous year,' said William R. Watson, Baker housemaster and chairman of the House Dining Committee. "That would mean that there would be lunch and dinner served at Baker and McCormick, and dinners served in the other two houses." MacGregor and Next House would serve continental breakfasts, he added.
The committee, which was asked to propose a solution by April 10, will conclude its activities next week. Rather than propose a solution, the group will give its data to the administration in the hopes that a decision can be made during the summer or fall. Such a decision, Watson said, would take effect in the fall of 1993.
"My feeling is that they're having a hard time getting anything that people are really happy with," said Kenway Louie '93, president of Baker. "Anything that they can do right now is just holding time."
No membership fee
Both of the committee's first two proposals included a "membership fee" which would have been paid by residents of the four dormitories with dining halls. Under the first plan, residents of those houses would have paid about $1,300 a year to subsidize the dining halls in their dormitories. This plan also offered a 65 percent discount to residents of these dormitories on food purchased at any of the four facilities. This discount was meant to boost the number of students eating in those dining halls, which has declined steadily over the last few years.
After strong student opposition to this plan, the committee revised its proposal to include a "campus dining fee" of under $100 for residents of all Institute-approved housing, including dormitories, graduate residence halls, and independent living groups. Residents of the dormitories with dining halls would have paid an additional $400 fee, in exchange for which they would have received a 65 percent discount. Residents of the other dormitories, including graduate students, protested having to pay to subsidize dining halls that they rarely used. Over 60 residents of Ashdown House signed a letter to The Tech condemning the measure; a petition circulated at East Campus garnered over 200 signatures after only two days.
"The concept of some kind of membership fee for a dining service is pretty much off the board now," Watson said. "The committee was unanimous about recommending the house dining facilities fee, and I think the committee has unanimously come to the conclusion that that wasn't a good idea."
But in an interview earlier this week, Dickson said he was not opposed to charging dormitory residents a premium for dining halls in their houses. "It would be quite a departure from all the flexibility that one has put into the system. However, I think we have to look at the economics of the situation," he said.
Dickson will probably not support a universal dining fee, however: "I find it hard to have people in the fraternities pay for the dining system on campus and in the houses."
On Monday, committee members said the group planned to recommend a mandatory meal plan for all undergraduate dormitory residents, beginning with the Class of 1997. Had such a plan been enacted, students already enrolled at the Institute would have been "grandfathered" and would not have been affected.
"It's obvious that they're expecting little resistance from students, because they're employing the policy on people who aren't here yet," said Manish H. Bhatia '93, president of MacGregor. Such a change, he said, could "skew the relationship between dormitories and fraternities."
Finding a solution to the entire dining situation was beyond the scope of the House Dining Committee, Watson said. "They should have been given the power to look at he system as a whole, including the possibility of bringing in a new food service company, closing down one or more of the dining halls, [and] expanding the facilities in the Student Center and Walker."
"It's an Institute-wide problem, and needs an Institute-wide solution," he added.
Numerous students complained that the committee only represented students living in the four dormitories with dining halls, and said that the campus dining fee would never have been proposed if someone representing other students had been on the committee.
Bhatia felt that the committee, which included housemasters, students, and representatives from both MIT Food Services and ARA, had been "steered a little too much by the faculty members and ARA members, rather than the students on the committee."
But Watson disagreed, saying, "I didn't feel that in any of our deliberations that people were lined up by interest group or by any kind of partisan outlook."
Bhatia and Louie, whose dormitories both have dining halls, felt that much of the waste could be attributed to ARA's mismanagement.
"Ultimately," Louie said, the administration "will have to make a decision between losing the dining halls, losing a lot of money like they do now, or changing the way they run the dining halls."
Bhatia felt that ARA might be losing less money than it claims, forcing MIT to subsidize the dining halls. "I don't think that the dining halls need to be closed. There has to be a solution somewhere. Anywhere you don't pay rent, and you get 200 customers every day, and you only have to employ people from 4:00 until 8:00, you should be able to break even."
He added: "If the dining halls are losing money, people are spending it somewhere, and that translates into a gain at Lobdell."