The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 73.0°F | Partly Cloudy

Draft Report Considers Dorm Dining, Mandatory Meal Plan

ByDouglas E. Heimburger
Associate News Editor

Last week, the dining review working group made public the results of several months of work and released several different dining models that will form the foundation for the new campus dining plan.

In its models, the group considered several dining issues including the level of MIT involvement in management, the feasibility of a mandatory meal plan, and the amount of Institute support for dormitory dining.

Instead of choosing the preferred model on its own, the group decided to release a range of models to the community and see which one was the most preferred, said Director of the Campus Activities Complex Phillip J. Walsh, the group's leader.

The proposed plans are available on the World Wide Web at http://web.mit.edu/committees/fswg, Walsh said. The models, which focus on six key dining issues, came from open meetings and the focus group sessions the group held last fall.

The group is now soliciting comments in preparation for the final report, which will recommend one model for implementation. "We clearly need to get as much input as possible" over the next two weeks, Walsh said.

The group also released a draft statement on the educational mission of dining. "It's from this that everything else flows,"Walsh said. The statement calls for nutritious, quality foods that are convenient at a reasonable cost.

Management options considered

The group released models for managing food services ranging from no central management to a dining program completely run by MIT.

Models include a "virtual food service system" under which a food service committee would oversee independent providers using on and off campus facilities. "We'll ask people like LaVerde's [Market] and the [food] trucks to join our system," said John S. Hollywood G, a member of the dining group.

One benefit of this system could be the extension of the MITCard to facilities off campus, Hollywood said.

To extend the card, several federal restrictions would have to be taken into account, Walsh said. "If you transmit money electronically, you have to be a financial institution,"Walsh said.

Several universities, includingFlorida State University, have partnered with banks when extending their plan. "They've married their card with a bank," he said. However, the dining group is not seriously considering following this option, Walsh said.

In addition, some of the ideas put forth by the committee have not been attempted even at other universities, Walsh said.

For example, the "food services corporation" model, in which a national provider like Aramark would enter into a corporation with MIT, arose out of conversations with other dining providers, Walsh said. "This would be a way to resolve the issue of trust" over management and pricing concerns, he added.

Committee mulls meal plan

Several of the proposed models call for the introduction of mandatory meal plans at MIT replacing the declining balance system currently used. MIT now refunds any money on the MIT Card not spent by the end of the term. Most other universities do not refund money placed on their meal card but later not spent, Walsh said.

"Maybe one option" for the mandatory meal plans would be for lunch options, Walsh said. By offering mandatory meal plans, the cost of dining could be reduced,he added. "You would build into [the plan] some discount."

Another option would require a meal plan for freshman only. "The rationale there is that people are going through a turbulent change and shouldn't have to worry about how to eat,"Walsh said.

Mandatory meal plans would encourage good nutrition, the models claim, because decisions on what to eat would no longer be based solely on cost.

Personal cooking considered

The dining review working group also looked at personal cooking on campus and how it relates into the array of campus dining options.

"It's a significant issue,"Walsh said. Many students at the open meetings said that they enjoyed cooking, while others called it a necessity that they would rather not deal with, he added.

The options proposed by the group range from the current kitchen arrangement, to additional support from MIT in cleaning kitchens.

Another option called for some dormitories to be designated "cooking residence halls" while others would be designated as "dining hall dormitories."Kitchen facilities would not be improved in dining hall dormitories.

Afinal option calls for the removal of most full kitchens on campus and replacing them with dormitory rooms where possible.

In this area, as in others, different options may work for different groups on campus, Walsh said. "There may not be a single standard that works."

Final report due out in April

During the comment period, the dining group is reviewing the financial and operations of potential systems. "We're going to seek some help from outside to look at them from a financial perspective,"Walsh said.

The group will also hold meetings with housemasters, the Undergraduate Association, and the Graduate StudentCouncil before returning a final proposal for the future of dining, Walsh said.

Unlike the model proposals, the final report will be highly detailed, Walsh said. "The final report is going to be a clearer goal of what needs to be in a [request for proposal]," which is used to select a contractor for dining on campus.

In April, the final report will be delivered to Dean for Undergraduate Education Rosalind H. Williams and Senior Vice President William R. Dickson '56, who will then determine what parts of the report will be implemented, Walsh said.