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Meal Plan Proposal Criticized

By Hyun Soo Kim

Associate News Editor

"It sucks."

Those words were frequently used to describe the dominant student opinion of the new house dining plan in surveys and interviews.

Students object primarily to the plan's prices, dining schedules, and its five-meal requirement. The new dining plan was approved by Senior Vice President William R. Dickson '56 to start in September 1993.

The plan requires all residents of Baker House, MacGregor House, McCormick Hall, and Next House to purchase a $1,150-a-year meal plan good for five commons-style meals per week -- breakfast, lunch or brunch at Baker, or dinners in any of the dining halls. Each meal would effectively cost $8.21, according to John T. McNeill, associate director of food services. Under the plan, additional meals may be purchased at a discount or with an additional declining balance for other cafeterias.

Dempsey conducts survey

In protest of the new dining plan, MacGregor resident Wayne R. Dempsey '94 wrote and distributed a survey to approximately 360 residents of his house last Friday. Over the weekend, he has received 126 responses to date, Dempsey said.

"I'm trying to show that a lot of people will move out of the dorm," said Dempsey, who added he would not be very inconvenienced himself by the plan. "We had a meeting today in the house, and one of the major points was that if ARA decides to put this plan in effect, and if we don't eat there, ARA will just make the profit."

The survey included a description of the proposed house dining system as described in a memo from the Office of Housing and Food Services. The average price of a meal and an estimate of the average student spending per year under the proposed house dining plan were also cited.

In the survey, 124 people responded "no" to the question, "Do you approve of the [house dining] plan right now as written?" Only two people responded "yes" to this question.

When asked, "If this plan were put into effect, would you consider moving out of the dorm?" 107 residents answered "yes" and 19 answered "no." "But how many would actually move out [once this plan is implemented] is a different question," Dempsey added.

"I tried to be as unleading as possible in wording my questions. That's why I put in the house dining plan as it was worded in the memo that they sent out," he said.

According to Dempsey's survey, the average amount that the respondents spent "on each meal at any food service cafeteria" was $4.79, and the average amount spent per week was $42.84.

Many respondents also wrote comments on the back of the survey. The most frequent objection to the dining plan was that it is too expensive. Many said that they never eat $8 worth of food. Two students mentioned that at those prices, they would rather eat at off-campus restaurants.

Sonia Ensenat '94, a McCormick resident, said, "My strongest objection is the all-you-can-eat and the hours that you have to eat.... I snack, and I eat at 2 p.m. when my classes are over, so basically I would be wasting money."

Baker residents shared the same sentiment. "I think it is expensive. I never spend more than $5 per meal. Also, I'm bound to miss some meals," said Michael J. Park '96.

Students with special dietary needs, such as kosher and vegetarian meals, mentioned that the dining halls do not offer as much choice for them. "In general, there are a lot less options for vegetarians to choose from [at dining halls]," said Ketaki N. Patel '95, a McCormick resident a former vegetarian.

"An all-you-can-eat plan takes away the much-needed flexibility that is required around here," Patel continued. "The declining balance plan is an infinitely better idea for the lifestyles of MIT students."

Students were not the only ones critical of the proposed plan. "If guaranteed a flat rate, there is no incentive for good food. If you sell food a la carte, there is incentive to make good food," said Stephen J. Lippard PhD '65, the housemaster at MacGregor who served on last year's house dining committee.

"There should be more incentive for ARA to provide better food at a more reasonable cost to students. There is no incentive for ARA to provide good food to MacGregor residents," Lippard said.

Closing dining halls debated

According to the MacGregor survey, 123 respondents approved of closing their dining hall when asked, "If you had a choice between approving this plan or closing the MacGregor dining hall, which would you prefer?" Three students responded: "Disapprove."

However, a survey conducted last March by the house dining committee found that most students wanted to keep the dining halls open. Almost 90 percent of the students wanted dinner served in their houses on Monday through Thursday, according to that survey.

"Students want the dining hall open, but they don't want to pay for it. I remember the survey. The question was, `Do you want the dining hall open?' But they didn't compare it with this kind of plan," Dempsey said.

"There is no way to close down resident dining halls because there is so little room on campus to eat -- which shows up in the lunch crowd already," said Lorin W. Theiss '94, a Baker resident. "I would like to keep the Baker dining hall with a different plan," he added.

"The survey said that for the most part, students don't want the dining halls to close," said Dickson, who approved the plan. "We have come up with a plan that will keep the system financially sound and will minimize" the number of meals that students would be required to eat in the dormitories.

"But, we can't have the dining halls and the students not eating there. So we don't plan to change [the proposal]," Dickson said.

However, he mentioned that the hours of operation of the houses under the house dining system could be changed. "We are perfectly willing to change the hours to accommodate people," Dickson said.

Lawrence E. Maguire, director of food services, said that he has received about a dozen comments from students via electronic mail. "Basically, they had the same concerns we all had. Student schedules make it difficult to get back to houses for meals, and the initial price is too high. Also athletes might have a hard time getting to the dining halls during that time," he said.

"It's still a minimum plan, something to build on. As we go forward, we are going to try to deal with the things that need to be dealt with. It's the best we could come up with," Maguire added.

Maguire, McNeill, Associate Director of Housing and Food Services Kenneth R. Wisentaner, and Alan Leo, general manager of food services will attend the Undergraduate Association Council meeting on Thursday evening at 7 p.m. to discuss the dining proposal.