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Dining Group Rules Out Mandatory Plan

By Douglas E. Heimburger
Associate News Editor

The food services working group has tentatively turned down a proposal to institute mandatory meal plans for all MIT students, said Campus Activities Complex Director Phillip J. Walsh, who heads the group.

"We are not recommending the establishment of mandatory meal plans"in the current tentative report, Walsh said. "We have to improve people's confidence in the system." By improving quality and value, food service operations can likely be profitable without the requirement of a meal plan.

The mandatory meal plan proposal was just one option that the working group has debated over the past year as it tried to devise a master strategy that would detail the future of dining at the Institute. The group is scheduled to unveil additional details in its tentative report to the Undergraduate Association Monday evening.

The tentative proposals are currently being reviewed by an outside financial group, Walsh said. In creating the proposals, "cost is just one of many factors"that the group addressed.

Comments on the tentative plans will be sought prior to releasing the final report to RosalindH. Williams, dean for undergraduate education, and William R. Dickson '56, senior vice president. Williams and Dickson will then determine if and how to implement the plan.

Dining, community to be stressed

The group's final model for food services will stress the potential for community-building through dining programs, Walsh said.

"We have given particular focus to residential dining, and we have worked to ensure that the culture of the houses are recognized and that their input into the system is intentional,"Walsh said.

For example, the group will likely recommend that the Department of Housing and Food Services take over responsibility for cleaning dormitory kitchens in order to improve sanitation. "Often times, the maintenance of kitchens is left up to the residents," which can discourage personal cooking.

Walsh also stressed that students will be involved in the day-to-day operation of dining programs under the new dining model. The move would ensure that students have an active role in determining the future course of dining on campus, Walsh said.

Group receives little input on plan

The effort to design and release new dining models has been hobbled by the lack of student input. Although the dining group has made many attempts to garner student opinion, only a few students commented on the models that the group brought forward in March.

The group's World Wide Web page at http://web.mit.edu/committees/fswg/, which provided a wide range of models in various operational and philosophical areas, only captured 26 student comments to date, Walsh said.

Most of the respondents, 21, provided comments about the various proposals for voluntary or mandatory meal plans that the group presented. Of those, all 21 were opposed to a "comprehensive plan" requiring all students to purchase a plan for several meals per week in an on-campus dining facility.

Eighteen students commented on proposals to change personal cooking on campus. Most of them were opposed to the elimination of personal cooking, and half of those commenting expressed support for the current level of support for dining on campus.

The group is pleased with the comments it received even though few students commented. "A lot of times, people don't feel the need to react [to a proposal] until they see a final report,"Walsh said.

And even then, the group also does not expect that many students will comment on the final proposal. "I don't really think there's anything that's going to come out [of the committee] that's going to cause a big reaction,"Walsh said.

Dining changes may begin soon

While the group is not charged with implementing the recommendations given in its final report, discussions have already begun on how to implement the plan if it is approved by Williams and Dickson.

Students may see changes in the dining structure by the fall term, said John S. Hollywood G, a member of the working group. During the next year, the group plans to test some of the theories that it is currently proposing.

Still, some changes may not occur until mid-1998, Walsh said. "It's probably going to take another year or two to fully realize the changes"the group is proposing.

Aramark, which currently provides dining services to the Institute, has been contracted to provide dining services through June 30 and has a verbal agreement for the 1997-98 school year, said Elizabeth Emery, food services director forAramark.

Aramark is committed to working with the dining group to test pilot new ideas in the fall, Emery said. "Next year would be the perfect year to test pilot some ideas for residential dining."

Improvements to the level of support provided for personal cooking are unlikely to adversely financially impact a food services operation on campus, Emery said. "If people want to cook, they can probably find a place now."