A Meal Plan That Makes Sense for MITLast week, the Office of Campus Dining announced that a mandatory meal plan for all undergraduate dormitory residents will begin next year. No one at MIT denies the need to improve campus dining, and fundamental changes to the current system might certainly be necessary to improve it. Quality and cost of service are intimately related; in mandating a meal plan, the administration acknowledged that fact and sought to take a bold step toward improving the dining system.
However, it may not be necessary to require all dormitory residents to purchase a dining plan. All five of the Institute’s proposals involve expensive meal plans. The Tech proposes a compromise plan that will be more affordable for students and may be more compatible with the current culture, while still putting additional capital into the dining system. Regardless of the Institute’s decision for a new dining proposal, students should be able to opt out entirely.
Under the current system, students who choose to use the current meal plan can put as little as $200 onto their cards, and any unused funds are refunded at the end of the academic year. It is likely that MIT’s new proposal will require participants to pay a minimum amount, significantly higher than $200, which will not be refunded. This minimum should be lower than the current per term prices for all five of the options currently on the table, while additional plans offering more meals at a lower per-meal rate should also be offered. Students should also be able to add cash to their plans that will be refunded if not spent.
The Tech supports MIT’s efforts to improve the campus community by offering all-you-can-eat dining. Such service encourages students to sit down for a longer period of time, as time spent waiting in line to pay will no longer be greater than the time spent eating. However, purchasing food to go is often necessary for students with busy MIT schedules. The meal plan should offer both all-you-can-eat meals and a declining balance for À la carte meals, but an all-you-can-eat meal should be exchangeable for À la carte credit. Certain dining facilities such as Lobdell, Walker, and dormitory dining halls can established as all-you-can-eat cafeterias, but facilities such as Courses, Pritchett, Bio Cafe, Dome Cafe, and Refresher Course make more sense as À la carte cafes. Students should have the option of all-you-can-eat or À la carte dining for each meal.
However, students choosing not to participate in the meal plan should be prepared to make some compromises. Swiping the card for laundry, vending machines, and photocopies may only be available to those who opt into the meal plan. In addition, a student who does not buy into the plan would have to pay cash for À la carte meals, and would have to pay a premium for all-you-can-eat meals.
There is no reason to treat freshmen differently than upperclassmen with regards to dining, and similarly there is no reason to exclude graduate students from the new dining plan. The Institute should especially encourage Graduate Residence Tutors and Teaching Assistants to enter into the meal plan to foster interaction between graduates and undergraduates. Faculty and staff should also have the option to enter a meal plan.
One of MIT’s key arguments behind the meal plan regards the process of selecting vendors who would accept the MIT card. Clearly, greater quality and variety of vendors will encourage more students to sign up for a meal plan. LaVerde’s should be included as one of these vendors, given the obvious existing demand. MIT should also explore options for including FSILGs and language houses in any proposed meal plan.
Fixing the flaws in the current campus dining system will require drastic changes, but MIT should strive to preserve much of the current system’s freedom of choice. We propose option six.