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Mandatory Meal Plan Is a Poor Idea for MIT Students

Column by Douglas D. Keller

Photo Editor

The main issue behind the proposal of a mandatory meal plan for all students in on-campus housing appears to be the social role dormitory cafeterias play. There are members of the House Dining Committee who feel that closing the dormitory cafeterias will affect the social life of dorm residents. This is a spurious argument, because no one eats in the dorm cafeterias, so what social benefits would be lost by closing them?

I live at East Campus, and as is the case in other dormitories with kitchen facilities, there are groups of people who get together to cook meals. Similar cooking groups exist at Bexley Hall and Senior House, allowing residents to get together over a meal and discuss the day's events, politics, or whatever crosses their minds. If the dorm cafeterias serve to bring dorm residents together, so do the cooking groups and kitchens in dorms without cafeterias. So forcing a meal plan upon students saves one social environment at the expense of another. Not to mention that students aren't eating in dorm cafeterias, but they are eating in dorm kitchens.

With the advent of UROPs and the increase in the number of student jobs, there is no convenient time when most students in a particular dorm can get together to eat a meal. Students don't study or eat in their dorms anymore because UROPs and jobs make it unreasonable to take an hour off to walk back across campus. This fact is reflected in the poor attendance in dorm cafeterias. A mandatory meal plan would not serve to force students to walk back from Whitehead or Sloan to their dorm to eat dinner. At best there would be a slight increase in dorm cafeteria attendance. But the impact on the three central eating establishments (Walker, Lobdell, and Networks) would be significant.

In the mid-1980s the Institute adopted a mandatory commons plan for all students on campus. After two years the plan was scrapped because Walker had become overcrowded at dinner, with lines of more than an hour. In response, the Institute decided that it would be cheaper to put kitchens in East Campus and Senior House than to renovate Walker. The plan didn't work then, and there's no reason it should work now.

The fact facing the House Dining Committee is simple: Dorm cafeterias are losing a lot of money. My solution is simple: Close them. Students don't eat in them and ARA doesn't want them, so close the dorm cafeterias. Remodel Walker and Lobdell so they can handle the increased load of students. Remodel the dormitory cafeterias and turn them into lounges or rooms which could eliminate freshman overcrowding. Implementation of my plan will cost the Institute money, but some of the expense can be recouped through an increase in the number of student rooms. ARA will be happy because they will have shed the dead weight of dormitory cafeterias. Students will be especially happy because they won't have to throw $500 down the drain on cafeterias they never use, not to mention $1,500 on food they don't want or can't afford to eat.

Doug hopes that the House Dining Committee will save this column in case they change their minds again.