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Here We Go Again

Veena Thomas

Just when I was about to retire from column-writing, MIT’s powers-that-be have convinced me that they think up misguided policies solely so that I can rail against them.

Quite frankly, it’s getting boring; I’m running out of creative, yet polite ways to write columns pointing out flaws in the administrators thinking, and obviously it’s not working anyway. I’ve decided this entire process can be automated. Hence, I have created Veena’s Form Column. Clip this column and save it. Next time MIT makes a decision, simply circle the most pertinent phrases in the Form Column, and voila! An instant column on the issue, and I don’t have to leave retirement.

Veena’s Form Column

In a surprise move, MIT has decided to (house all freshmen on campus/ place residential coordinators in dorms/ ignore the dining committee’s recommendations and renew Aramark’s contract/ house TEAL in the reading room/ eliminate second-term P/D/F/ cut funding for JV sports/ place temporary faculty offices on The Dot/ decree a mandatory meal plan for all undergraduates on campus). The administration claims this policy is necessary because (there isn’t any other space on campus/ MIT doesn’t have enough money/ the freshman year needs to be reshaped/ we need to build “community”). Students, however, strongly oppose this plan because they were not consulted on the matter beforehand and (they like MIT the way it is/ the policy doesn’t make sense).

Here are the flaws in said plan: (list flaws here). Here are some proposed solutions to the problem MIT wished to correct: (list ideas here). The Undergraduate Association and Dormitory Council (have passed a resolution politely asking the administration to reconsider this policy/ have not yet formed an official opinion on the matter/ are forming a subcommittee to study the issue more closely). The administration most likely will (stand by their decision/ ignore student input completely/ propose a mildly revised policy which will cause students to celebrate and ignore the fact that the new policy is only slightly more palatable than the old policy). Students can protest this decision by (signing the circulating petition/ attending meetings/ joining a committee).

But for old time’s sake, I will write one last old-fashioned column on the latest edict to befall the undergraduate community: a mandatory meal plan.

However, even my real column on a mandatory meal plan reads like the Form Column; mandatory meal plans are a bad idea because (the minimum level of involvement is far too high/ nonrefundable balances are a tremendous waste of students’ money/ few people follow normal 5-7 pm dining hours/ students like cooking for themselves/ mandatory does not equal community-building).

Personally, I find it amusing that we have fallen into a set routine for dealing with new policies:

1. Administrators announce new policy designed to “improve undergraduate life.”

2. Students hate said policy.

3. Students protest said policy.

4. Administrators ask for student input on policy. (Note this is step 4, not step 1.)

5. Administrators work with students on new policy.

We could save ourselves a lot of anguish, time, and effort if students were consulted before, not after, policies are announced on issues concerning them.

I couldn’t believe the overwhelming opposition I heard from students regarding mandatory meal plans. Consider the following case studies:

The document at <http://pj.mit.edu/DormCon/Dining/> lists 5 proposed meal plans, stating that the there are 206 dinners per year. The dining plan described as “closest to the current system” requires both a $1850 initial annual enrollment for freshmen designed to cover all 206 dinners and a retail balance of $1800. I whipped out my trusty calculator and did the math. $1850 divided by 206 dinners almost exactly equals nine dollars per dinner. I spend less than that when I eat out. Even my boyfriend, who eats like a vacuum cleaner, doesn’t spend $3600 per year on campus food. If he doesn’t, who does?

I asked my former roommate, a junior, what she thought of the mandatory meal plan. She looked terribly upset. “I haven’t put money on my MIT card in the two years I’ve been here,” she said. “I cook most of my own food or buy it somewhere else. There was one time that I was absolutely starving, so I went to Lobdell. But the food I got was so bad, I had to throw it away. I just went on starving.”

Personally, I only load $400 on my MIT card per term, and I use that mainly for lunch, laundry, and photocopies. I haven’t eaten dinner from campus dining once this year. Freshman year was the last time I ate dinner in a dormitory dining hall more than once a term. Have I felt myself isolated from the campus community because I cook my own dinner or order from one of the many ethnic restaurants in the vicinity? Certainly not.

I believe in freedom of choice, not imposition of mandatory (and expensive) plans in an attempt to build a nebulous “community,” the latest MIT buzzword. Even kindergartners are granted the option to choose whether they fork over their dollar bill to buy hot lunch or have Mommy pack them PB &J, and no one is accusing them of lacking in community spirit. I demand the right to be treated like a kindergartner.

October 3rd is Freedom of Dining Choice Day. On this day, I will join others in exercising my right to eat where I want, when I want, by boycotting all campus dining services. I urge you to send a message by doing the same.

I’ve commented before that, one by one, MIT has eliminated many of the reasons I chose to come here in the first place. (I’ve still got my fingers crossed that they leave IAP untouched.) What I liked most about MIT was their philosophy that “we do things a little differently.” I never realized that by the end of my undergraduate career, MIT would eliminate many of its most unique features.

I hope that the MIT administration eventually learns from its mistakes and decides to consult students before announcing major new controversial policies.

In the meantime, I will continue to be grateful that I am graduating this year, because I (don’t want to be around next year with the implementation of at least 3 major new policies/ prefer to leave before things get worse/ am tired of fighting/ all of the above).