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A Look At Dining Systems

Mandatory Plans Nothing New at MIT

By Jennifer Krishnan


As students discuss recent dining proposals, they may wonder how the Institute could seriously consider making campus dining mandatory. But for residents of some dormitories, the MIT meal plan was mandatory until less than 10 years ago.

The newly expanded Campus Dining Board, which has been instructed to come up with a viable dining plan, is not the first group to receive that charge.

Interim Chair of the Campus Dining Board Kirk D. Kolenbrander said that MIT has been revising its dining system for years.

“The status quo is really quite broken,” he said, adding that he doesn’t know anyone who doesn’t think the current dining system has a great deal of room for improvement.

Dining mandatory until 1993

In 1993, residents of the four dormitories with residential dining halls -- Baker House, Macgregor House, McCormick Hall, and Next House -- were required to purchase a meal plan of at least $530 per semester. Aramark was operating these four dining halls at a loss of about $500,000 per year.

To cut these losses, the administration decided to change the declining balance requirement to a plan that would include five commons-style meals per week. It was not well received.

Opposition to the new plan was so strong, in fact, that just two months later, the Institute reversed the decision. Instead, dining halls in McCormick and Macgregor were closed, and the meal plan became completely optional for all students.

Monopoly break-up suggested

The issue of mandatory dining was far from dead, however.

The Institute Dining Review was established in 1995, when the Committee on Student Affairs called for an intensive review of the state of campus dining. Members solicited student input and set out to craft an ideal system of campus dining.

A draft report issued by the Institute Dining Review detailed several proposals for new system of dining, including various plans with mandatory components. Again, the idea of a mandatory meal plan was not well received.

In the end, the Institute Dining Review report did not recommend a mandatory meal plan (due to “negative response”), though it did call for a meal plan that “would offer packages of meals at significant savings over the regular a la carte prices.”

The report also called for the division of dining service at MIT into zones, to break up the Aramark monopoly and stimulate competition.

The central administration agreed to implement the recommendations made in the report.

Implementation did not go exactly according to plan, however. When the time came in 1999 to sign the two contracts for the two zones that had been established, the Institute hired Aramark for both. Four different companies were still interested at the end of the year-long bid process, Walsh said.

Walsh explained that Aramark had been selected because MIT had been going through a “transitionary period” at the time and Aramark was familiar.

He added that the contract signed in 1999 was not simply a renewal of the old contract, and that MIT’s relationship with Aramark has since changed.

In the past, “every expense [in campus dining] was MIT’s,” Walsh said. Now “Aramark’s losses are not necessarily projected [directly] on the Institute.”

Walsh added that recently, Aramark has been “more attentive to details” than it has been in the past.

Board has less than 2 months

Chancellor Phillip L. Clay PhD ’75 has given the Campus Dining Board until the end of November to come up with a viable alternative plan.

If the board fails to come up with an acceptable solution, the administration will probably implement one of Dining Director Richard D. Berlin III’s recommendations, which all feature mandatory meal plans.

Kolenbrander and Clay both said they are confident that the board will be able to craft an appropriate model for campus dining.

“We’re making excellent progress,” Kolenbrander said. He said that the board is on course to have a recommendation in the next few weeks.