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Students Urge MIT to Reconsider Dining Plan

By Hyun Soo Kim
Associate News Editor

About 100 students gathered to question and discuss the new dormitory dining plan with food service administrators at yesterday's Undergraduate Association Council meeting. At the meeting, students suggested alternative plans -- like closing one or more dining halls.

Lawrence E. Maguire, director of housing and food services, John T. McNeill, associate director of food services, General Manager of Food Services Alan Leo, and Kenneth R. Wisentaner, associate director of housing and food services, attended the meeting to answer questions.

Many students at the meeting expressed outrage over the new dining hall plan. "I just wanted to be involved and show people that students aren't in favor of this," said Michelle A. Neben '96, a Baker House resident.

The proposed plan requires 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 at the dining halls each week. Under the plan, each meal would effectively cost $8.21, and additional meals could be bought at a discounted rate, according to McNeill.

"I think [the dining plan] is the most outrageous thing I've ever heard. ... I've never eaten $8 worth of food. I've not talked to one person who is in favor of it," Neben said.

Plan's cost flexibility addressed

Students criticized the cost and flexibility of the dining plan, and the quality of the food.

Walter E. Babiec '94, a Next House resident, expressed Next House residents' dominant opinion about the plan. "First, [students] thought $8.21 was too much. Almost no one feels they spend that much on food. Second, a lot of people say they will move out of [Next House]. Third, the quality needs to be addressed and also the flexibility of the five mandatory meals," he said.

Wayne R. Dempsey '94 asked what incentive the dining halls will have to increase the quality of the food.

Leo responded, "We're more than willing to serve the types of food students want. It's not easy to get feedback on what students want."

McNeill added that ARA will have incentive for quality because the ARA's profits only come from sales.

Responding to questions about the high cost of meals under the proposed plan, McNeill said, "The $8.21 is based on five meals. The assumption is that if you eat more meals, the price may go down to $6.75 or $6.80. ... We set up reduced rates for breakfast and lunch because major costs are covered by the $1,150," he said.

To reduce the half-million dollar yearly losses that the dining halls incur, McNeill said that a possible solution was to close all the dining halls except one, which would be run on declining balance.

When McNeill said that all the cafeterias on campus lose money because there are too many cafeterias on campus, students in the audience yelled, "Close the halls."

Possible solutions discussed

Dempsey suggested that residents of dormitories with dining halls vote on the issue.

Maguire said, "You get the proxy votes, then I will go over them with my boss. The customer may know best."

Lilac Muller '93 suggested closing the McCormick and MacGregor dining halls because the houses have sufficient kitchen facilities.

Students proposed other solutions at the end of the question-and-answer period.

Lynetta S. Frasure '95 said, "Reevaluate the feasibility of closing some, if not all the dining halls. Look at alternatives to commons-style. Declining balances are better for students. Consider incorporating snack bars, convenience stores to the plan."

Sonia Ensenat '94 suggested that the plan take cost and convenience into account by offering a different rate just for purchasing snacks at the dining halls.

Student react to meeting

"I thought the meeting was good. Perhaps the administration has some concept of what students think," said MacGregor resident David G. Gaxiola '95 after the meeting adjourned.

"I thought it was very constructive. People made constructive comments rather than flaming. I think it is good that it shows the Institute's willingness to work with us on this issue. ... I think it would be very hard to go ahead with the plan without further rationale on why they do so," Babiek said.

Many students agreed with the proposal to close some of the dining halls. "Some really good suggestions were given. I hope they are considered. Close some of the dining halls -- like Baker," Neben said.

Anand R. Radhakrishnan '96 added, "I hope they are willing to listen to us. He seemed to be open to the idea of closing the dining halls. I would mind if they were closed, but not at this expense. If they have to charge us this much, I would rather see it closed."

New surveys reveal student dissatisfaction

MacGregor residents recently participated in a survey, written and distributed by Dempsey, showing that 99 percent of the 126 respondents disapproved of the new dining plan.

Jason B. Thomas '96, a Baker resident, also wrote a survey which was randomly placed in 180 Baker mail boxes. To date, he has received 31 responses. In this survey, 28 people disapproved of the proposed dining plan, and 3 approved of it. Twenty-three people said that they would "prefer the dining halls to close instead of adopting this plan."

McCormick residents also expressed disapproval of the dining plan through a survey.