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Dining Report Reveals Many Are Not Satisfied

By Douglas E. Heimburger
Staff Reporter

The dining review working group recently released its interim report, which summarizes student opinion garnered from open meetings and focus groups held last fall.

The report, originally scheduled to be released in December, was released behind schedule because of difficulties in scheduling meetings with all the members of the group, said Campus Activities Complex Director Philip J. Walsh, who leads the committee. "Time is a difficult issue right now,"he said.

Difficulties in holding focus group sessions with students and staff members also delayed the issuance of the interim report, Walsh said.

Students comment on dining

A major section of the interim report is devoted to presenting a summary of student comments on dining as gathered through the focus group meetings and the open meetings during September and October.

One of the chief complaints of students was that Aramark facilities are not open during hours when students eat. "MIT needs real' dinner options that serve healthy meals after 7 p.m.," the report said.

Students also complained about the general lack of healthy dining options on campus. "Time constraints, poor food quality, food expense, and a lack of healthy options are all forcing some students into unhealthy eating habits,"the report said.

Walsh cautioned that the opinions expressed in the interim report are not necessarily those that are going to be adopted by the group as they address changes.However, the report "reflects the opinions and the perspectives of the community,"he added.

Group identified dining sources

One area of focus for the dining group was identifying all the sources for student dining on and near campus.

The identification process was difficult because of the number of sources of food available near campus. "Less than 50 percent of every dollar is spent at Aramark facilities" on campus, Walsh said. Other large sources of food include LaVerde's Market, the graduate pubs, the junior class doughnut stand, the 24-Hour Coffee House, and the vending machines, which are supplied to MITthrough a contract with the Daka Corporation, he said.

Dining has "always [been] approached in a traditional vein,"Walsh said. "That's got to shift" to a model where dining is characterized as an "experience," he added.

One result of the wide variety of groups providing dining options near campus is that MIT has only limited control over the system. As a result, there are "no common goals or strategies,"Walsh said.

Group will now form report

During the coming weeks, the group will turn its focus to the creation of new dining models for the Institute.

By mid-February, the group hopes to have models of various dining options for the Institute available for perusal and comment on the WorldWide Web, Walsh said. The group is "looking at things from a structure point all the way to the end," he said.

In each area, the group will present proposals to the community that the group might have summarily rejected previously, Walsh said. In the area of home cooking, for example, the group may present proposals ranging from an outright ban on student cooking to increased Institute support for the practice.

The committee will also look at areas related to dining like the MITCard program, Walsh said. Other universities have expanded the use of the card to great success, he added.

Final report to come in April

In the end, "what makes the most sense" in each area will become the basis of the final report, which should be released in April, Walsh said.

The group is still finding it difficult to recruit individuals to serve as intermediaries and to solicit input on the models, Walsh said."Time is a difficult thing right now," he said.

The final report, which will be presented to Senior Vice President William R. Dickson '56 and Dean for Undergraduate Education Rosalind H. Williams, will then be used to prepare a new request for proposals. The new contractor, if chosen, would take over for the 1998-99 school year.

Although the final report will be several months behind schedule, the dining group is working well, Williams said. "The group has uncovered some extremely complicated issues and is trying to get a full sense of community opinion on those issues. This just takes time,"she said.

Walsh said the group had considered the idea of having MITtake over the day-to-day control of the dining system. However, "there is not a great deal of excitement" about the idea, he said.