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Baker, Next House May Follow Simmons Subsidized Dining Plan

By Brian Loux

ASSOCIATE FEATURES EDITOR

Next House and Baker House governments are considering adopting a subsidized dining initiative that would cut prices in half in exchange for a fee paid each semester.

According to Campus Dining Advisory Board member Michael K. Owu ’86, the system would model the one currently in place at Simmons Hall, where all residents are required to pay $200 per term in exchange for a 50 percent discount on food available at Simmons dining.

The Simmons dining program began this year and was based loosely on a Cambridge University plan mentioned by students returning from the Cambridge-MIT Institute program.

According to Baker president Anthony D. Weinbeck ’04, Baker’s executive committee decided to hold off voting on the matter until more details were provided.

“I think [the issue] will most likely be brought up at the next house meeting and voted on then, in about 3 weeks,” Weinbeck said.

Next House president Johnny T. Yang ’04 said that the Next House executive committee tentatively agreed to the CDAB proposal. “We felt the pros greatly outweighed the cons,” he said.

Hours, participation extended

While the debate is in its early stages, additional ideas have been discussed.

Office of Campus Dining operations manager Ward L. Ganger says people outside of the dorms with dining halls could potentially participate in the program.

“Essentially, they would buy a membership. The idea is that the plan be reciprocal,” he said. “You could [receive a discount] in any of the dining halls.”

However, Yang said that the terms for out-of-dorm residents would be different. “There would be an advantage to living in the dorm [with] the dining hall,” he said.

Yang also said that Dean for Student Life Larry G. Benedict proposed subsidizing GRT meals.

In addition, Baker housemaster William B. Watson guaranteed that, should the plan go through, Baker dining would open for lunch, Weinbeck said. “There is also the possibility of [opening dining for] breakfast or brunch, or opening Baker Snacks for late night,” he said.

Yang said that it is important to remember that the program is still tentative. “The reason we [have not sent out anything official] is we’re not sure exactly what’s going to happen, and we didn’t want to mislead people,” he said.

Simmons program ‘successful’

The Simmons program has drawn a mix of criticism and praise. The Office of Campus Dining collected data about participation in the program, Ganger said. Richard D. Berlin, director of campus dining, could not be reached for comment.

“I am very pleased with the impact the dining plan has had on Simmons community,” said Simmons housemaster Professor John M. Essigmann in an e-mail. “What has impressed us is that so many students will sit for up to an hour, through several seatings, just talking with friends.”

“Participation in the house has been very successful,” Ganger said. “People said they have been very happy with the program ... providing discounted meals.”

However, Ganger said, the study does not analyze how many students are losing or saving money.

“I feel obligated to eat down there. I know I’m losing money,” said Ruth M. Perlmutter ’04.

With Simmons dining open 76 days this term, residents would need to buy $5.26 worth of food per day -- that is, pay $2.63 a day -- in order to break even. Perlmutter says she knows she does not spend that much.

“The big claim is that if you eat there most of the time, you’ll spend the same amount,” she said. “Factor in that one day where you’re visiting your friend or stuck in lab, then there’s really no way of saving money. If that’s the case, then there’s no reason to do it.”

Others who frequented the facility more often felt there were reasons to continue the program. “I don’t think we save money, but it makes the atmosphere much more social,” said Lauren A. Killian ’03. “If prices were [normal], I’d eat here half as often.”

Approval seems likely

Presently, there appears to be a strong sentiment in favor of the initiative.

Some Baker residents took a preliminary vote on April 7. According to Weinbeck, there were 21 in support of the initiative and 5 against, with 2 abstaining. “Hopefully, next time there will be majority of the house,” he said.

Next House’s endorsement underlies satisfaction with the general idea of the plan. “It’s great for a community in the long term, though it would take some years to get used to,” Yang said. “It’s also a great way for the dorm to get together and to use the facilities that we already have.”