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As Dining Group Solicits Input, Confusion Remains on Contract

By Douglas E. Heimburger
Staff Reporter

The dining review working group met this week with residents of McCormick Hall, Burton-Conner House, and Baker House despite lingering confusion among members of the group over its relationship to the future of dining services on campus.

The group, created during the end of the spring semester, is in charge of formulating a framework for dining on campus, said Director of the Campus Activities Complex Philip J. Walsh, who serves as head of the review group.

In the next two weeks, the group plans to solicit input from residents of all other dormitories and several independent living groups, Walsh said.

But the group will not be making a report until the end of January to Senior Vice President William R. Dickson '56, who along with Dean for Undergraduate Education Rosalind H. Williams, is responsible for the final decision on what MIT will do with its dining services.

Members of the dining group remain confused, however, about the potential one-year renewal of the Aramark contract.

"We're waiting to hear from BillDickson," said John S. Hollywood G, a member of the group. "Right now, we're working to have the review done by the end of the Independent Activities Period. If it is, the requests for proposals [for new dining providers] will be done this year."

However, such a timeline would preclude the selection of a new dining vendor or vendors for the 1997-98 school year, said Associate Director for Food Services John T. McNeill. For this reason, "the Aramark contract will probably be renewed," he said.

Group not involved with bidding

The purpose of the working group is to create a food services system that will be economical while building community and emphasizing student participation and nutrition, Walsh said.

Walsh emphasized that the dining review group is not involved in the issuing of contracts. "We're looking at dining at a more conceptual level to find a system that meets our dining needs," Walsh said. "The framework will become the basis for Housing and Food Services to use in any [requests for proposals] that are developed."

"It was our intention last year to extend [the Aramark contract] only one year," Dickson said. "However, the dining group should be and is driven by doing the job they set out to do and not by the rebidding issue."

The review group was not going to rush its efforts to finish by an arbitrary deadline, Walsh said."We're trying to do this by the beginning of the second term."

Still, "there may be areas where we have to explore into more depth,"he said. He emphasized that the committee will work until it can develop a strategy that meets the needs of the community.

Community input sought

Students attending the first dining work group meeting at McCormick had varied opinions on the current dining options on campus.

"If you have a house dining hall, it gives the appearance of a central meeting place for the dorm. Professors used to come visit the house dining halls.It's something that is missing now,"said Angela Kwan '97.

Others were concerned about the nutritional value provided by current dining system. "If I cook for myself, Iknow what I'm putting in. I don't trust the food at Lobdell," said Melanie P. Born '98.

These meetings represent the first interactive step for the committee, Walsh said.

Next month, the committee will be forming approximately 20 focus groups to gather "more detailed information" from a scientific sampling of 200 randomly selected students, staff, and alumni, Walsh said. Selected participants will be offered a meal as an incentive to attend.

After the comments received from the focus groups are analyzed, the committee will draft potential ideas and get feedback from the community through a "router" system, Walsh said. Volunteers, or routers, would compile comments into more structured reviews that the committee will use in its final construction of a dining framework.

This framework will be presented to Dickson and Williams, Walsh said.At that point, Dickson and Williams will determine what decisions of the committee will actually be implemented and in what forms, Walsh said.

The committee needs the assistance of interested parties in order to succeed, Walsh said. "We need people to assist in running the focus groups and to serve as routers."

Walsh encouraged individuals interested in helping the committee or those with comments to e-mail the working group at fswg@mit.edu.