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MIT to Impose Mandatory Meal Plan

Students Express Concern Over High Cost of Plan, Loss of Choice

By Maral Shamloo

With Aramark’s contract coming to an end this June, MIT is once again restructuring its dining system. As announced at a Dormitory Council meeting on Thursday night, a meal plan will be required for all students living in undergraduate dormitories next year.

“This is a move towards building communities among students by giving them the opportunity to dine in a more sociable environment,” said Richard D. Berlin III, director of campus dining services.

Under the plan, all students living in dormitories will be required to pay an up-front fee for dining, which would be around $1900 for freshmen and $1500 for upperclassmen. Food service operations in the student center and elsewhere on campus would provide food during the day, but students would eat dinner in dormitory dining halls.

“A meal plan is not about making students to accept what is there now, but rather giving them the opportunity to experience something completely different -- further options on nutritious food of better quality,” said Ward L. Ganger, dining manager.

Students unsure about meal plan

Students have mixed opinions on this proposal. “I like to have the option to eat whatever I want and be able to cook for myself,” said Zardosht Kasheff ’03. “It seems that the new meal plan does not allow me to do that. However, I’d like to have more facts before I can make a final judgment.”

Dormitory Council President Matthew S. Cain ’02 said that he has not yet decided whether he supports the idea of a mandatory meal plan. While he recognizes the need for better food service on campus, Cain does not want to force students to eat all their meals at dining halls.

“I certainly don’t want anything that’s going to keep people from cooking for themselves,” he said. However, Cain also said that the quality of the food at MIT dining needs to be improved.

“The current situation is unacceptable,” he said. “Hopefully we can come up with some compromise ... some minimal participation that would not be as burdensome as the rest of the proposals.”

“What is being promised is definitely better than what we have now,” said Kenneth G. Jow ’02, “but it should not restrict people’s choice.”

Luis M. Otero ’02 said he was appalled by the idea of having to pay up front for the food. “Those who want to eat out or cook for themselves are going to lose their money or be forced out of their options,” he said. However, dining managers believe that lack of choice in the dining facilities on campus at the moment is the reason people try to eat off-campus or cook.

UA encourages review of options

The Undergraduate Association passed a resolution last night which encourages the administration to “refrain from implementing [Berlin’s dining plan] without considerable revision and input from current MIT students via forums, town meetings, committees, and any other appropriate media.”

The resolution also encourages that the members of the UA help the administration to review and implement the new dining plan. Cain said that MIT Dining Services has included in its process a six to eight week period for students and community members to offer feedback and alternative proposals.

A petition addressing the shortcomings of the new meal plan, written by Vikash Gilja ’03, is being circulated among students.

Plan to increase choice

Berlin said that the aim of a mandatory meal plan is to convince contractors that MIT dining can be profitable, bring competition into the system, and encourage independent entrepreneurs to take part.

“Students will have a huge influence on the way the dining program is run,” Berlin said. “Our aim is to devise a plan which engages the students as much as possible in any aspect from menus to quality and hours.”

Several local restaurants will be allowed to bid at the end of January to run independent food stalls in Student Center and the new Stata Center dining facility. “We are bringing students’ favorites on campus,” said Berlin.

Although Aramark is still an option, other major contractors are being considered as well. Dining managers emphasized that the new contractor company would need to commit to the changes, specifically students’ influence on dining options.

Berlin’s report, which includes all five proposed dining options, can be found at .

Mandatory meal plan not so new

According to Berlin, MIT is unique among other universities in the sense that a mandatory meal plan does not exist at the Institute. “This is not new, however,” he added. “A meal plan was required by Institute until about 5 years ago when the plans were dismantled.”

In 1991, MIT required residents of Baker House, Macgregor House, McCormick Hall, and Next House, the dormitories with dining halls, to purchase a $1000 declining balance meal plan. Students living in dormitories without dining halls were not obligated to purchase a meal plan.

Facing high costs, MIT’s Academic Council resolved in 1993 to obligate residents of dormitories with dining halls to buy a commons-style meal plan. Several weeks later, however, in the face of strong student opposition, the decision was reversed. Instead, the dining halls at McCormick and Macgregor were closed, and meal plans became voluntary for all students.

Students will have a chance to voice their opinions on the latest incarnation of mandatory meal plans at a town hall meeting on October 3.

Dana Levine contributed to the reporting of this story.