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Students, Admins Discuss Meal Plan

By Christine R. Fry


MIT’s campus was abuzz with dining debate this week, as the Undergraduate Association sponsored a forum to discuss the newly proposed mandatory dining plan, and the Dormitory Council met with President Charles M. Vest.

Students, faculty, and staff came to Room 10-250 Wednesday evening to voice their opinions and ask questions of the administrators directly involved with dining issues.

Chancellor Philip L. Clay PhD ’75 opened the forum by outlining the plans of the Campus Dining Review Board. Clay said the board will take input from the community for 45 days, and explore other dining options which do not mandate student participation. After the review period, the board will make recommendations to members of the upper administration, who would then make the final decision.

The details of the board’s review process and proceedings have not yet been finalized.

Clay said that if the current concerns cannot be addressed by the review board, the mandatory dining plan will be in effect only for next year’s incoming freshmen. However, incentives would be put in place to make voluntary participation appealing.

“We won’t have a system that will proceed unsatisfactorily,” Clay said.

Students oppose new plan

Several students expressed concern that a mandatory dining plan, which MIT is proposing as a community-builder, might actually destroy existing community activities of student and living groups.

Prior to the forum, multi-cultural student group Pangaea sponsored a potluck dinner. Pangaea President Jumaane A. Jeffries ’02 said that Pangaea wanted to use the potluck as an example of an event that might be “destroyed” by a mandatory meal plan.

Other students argued during the forum that any form of a mandatory meal plan might end the freedom of choice that attracted many to MIT in the first place. A resident of Burton-Conner said that many students choose the dorm because of the suite kitchens, and that mandatory dining would not allow these students the option to cook their own dinners.

Director of Campus Dining Richard D. Berlin III spoke about the various complaints that students have sent to him by e-mail. One of these complaints dealt with the lack of student input when the initial dining proposals were drawn up.

Berlin accepted responsibility for the problem. “I take culpability on that,” Berlin said.

FSILGs Against Mandatory Plan

Fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups could potentially suffer from the installation of a mandatory meal plan. Many houses serve dinner on most week nights during semester.

“Such an atmosphere is not commonplace in the residence halls as it is in the FSILG community,” said IFC President Rory P. Pheiffer ’02.

If there is a mandatory meal plan for freshmen, Pheiffer fears that freshmen members of FSILGs will be reluctant to eat dinners at their respective houses because they have already paid for meals on campus.

“Eventually in such a system the new members will lose their ties to the FSILG they joined and eventually decide not to move into the house their sophomore year or even quit the FSILG entirely,” Pheiffer said.

Pheiffer has already met with Campus Activities Complex Director Phillip J. Walsh, and the IFC President’s Council will invite the Campus Dining Review Board to their next meeting to discuss the meal plan.

“The IFC plans to work hard to make sure that our member's needs are met in any sort of new meal plan,” Pheiffer said.

MIT Card Possible for Star

Berlin said that the Office of Campus Dining is currently working to bring Star Market in as a vendor which accepts the MIT card. This would mean that students would be able to use the meal card at Star Market to purchase food for what Berlin termed “self-cooking.”

Berlin also discussed some of the points that would be written into the contract made with any food service provider. Under the current proposal, students would be able to review the menus of various dining halls, making them accountable for less than satisfactory service. This measure is meant to prevent dining providers from taking advantage of the fact that students would be forced to patronize their facilities on a regular basis.

Berlin said that improvements on the proposal will come about only through “diligence on the part of our office and students giving us feedback.”

Vest Discusses Goals at DormCon

The issue of mandatory dining was also brought up in a DormCon meeting on Tuesday, which was attended by President Charles M. Vest. The main goal of this meeting was to discuss the long-range residential goals of the Institute and to listen to student concerns.

For obvious reasons, however, the discussion centered around the meal plan controversy. Students emphasized that trust in the dining system must be built before a real change can occur.

“Give us confidence that we will be able to eat good food at a good price,” one student demanded.

Vest sympathized with students who have complained about the new dining proposals. “I did not like the way this was rolled out and done,” Vest said.