Draft proposals describing the future of dining at MIT have been released for public review by both the student-run Dining Proposal Committee and the Blue Ribbon Institute Committee.
The two recommendations agree on increasing on-campus dining options, especially for breakfast, but differ significantly on mandatory meal plans for dorms with dining halls and on the future of dining halls in dorms, with the administration’s proposal requiring mandatory $500–600 dining fees for students living in dorms with dining halls.
Both plans would do away with the current $300-per-semester House Dining Membership, which gives students a 50 percent discount on any food purchased from house dining halls. Instead, both suggest a declining-balance meal plan program that would give students a certain amount of money to spend at house dining halls during the semester. Money left over at the end of the semester would be forfeit.
The proposals disagree on the minimum required house dining commitment for students living in dorms with dining halls. The BRC report suggests replacing the required $300 House Dining Membership with a $600-minimum declining balance plan. Students who do not want to buy into the plan would pay a mandatory fee of approximately $500 and get nothing.
The student-written DPC report suggests that dorms with dining halls replace the required House Dining Membership with a required $300 declining balance plan.
Under both plans, students not living in dorms with dining halls would still be able to purchase declining-balance meal plans; any students who purchased a plan, including those required to purchase one, would be able to purchase meals at a small discount.
The DPC proposal suggests closing three dining halls and replacing them with a large, centralized dining hall. In the short term, the report recommends closing the dining hall in McCormick Hall, citing the fact that that dining hall produces the largest deficit on campus and the dining hall in Baker is just a short walk away. In its long-term recommendations, the report suggests closing the dining facilities in Baker House and Simmons Hall. The dining halls in Next House and NW35 would stay open.
The proposed central dining facility would be located in either the Student Center or in a new building to be constructed in space currently being used as a parking lot behind the Kresge Auditorium. It would be open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
The administration’s BRC draft report does not suggest closing any current dining halls, and it does not recommend the construction of a centralized dining hall of the size suggested by the DPC.
For breakfast in the short term, both suggest a potential grab-and-go breakfast program that would require minimal staffing but still offer students healthy breakfast choices on their way to class.
All you can eat options in at least one centralized dining hall were also proposed by both reports.
Citing MIT’s previous history of unsustainable dining solutions and the fact that outside vendors had been involved since 1957, the DPC suggested that MIT look into running its own dining operations without outside vendors. The DPC draft suggested moving the food trucks that were relocated behind the MIT Medical building closer to Stata for lunch.
The BRC report also brought up the idea of marking a portion of the Campaign for Students fund to create a endowed fund for providing nutritional food at cheaper prices.
The DPC report included a analyses of the dining systems of several “peer universities,” which included Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.
UA Dining Proposal Committee
The Dining Proposal Committee was created by the Undergraduate Association six weeks ago as a student-run group charged with producing a proposal to improve dining at MIT. Since then, the committee has done its work through open meetings and discussion on its e-mail list, email@example.com.
Vinayak V. Ranade ’09, chair of the committee, said that one big roadblock for the DPC is the fact that MIT and third-party vendors are unwilling to give the DPC any sort of financial data about dining. It’s “extremely hush-hush,” he said.
For example, the lack of data made it difficult to analyze the feasibility of and potential savings from moving MIT dining away from outside vendors, he said.
Ranade said that the BRC “has been very forthcoming with their data.” They forwarded the data provided by the consultants “in a couple of different formats,” he said.
However, he also said that he wished the BRC was more willing to work together with DPC in crafting their reports. He said that he was invited to a meeting of the BRC, but was not allowed to see their draft report.
Noah S. Jessop ’09, Undergraduate Association president, said he was impressed with the report produced by the DPC. “The student report represents a group of students sitting down with the proverbial Red Bulls and pizzas working to produce a solid report.”
“Institute committees are much more constrained in putting time in beyond their standard work day,” he said.
Donna Denoncourt, chair of the BRC and associate dean of residential life, declined to comment on the draft report produced by the BRC.
Student feedback solicited
Both the BRC and the DPC are soliciting feedback over the coming week.
The DPC report was discussed in the UA Senate meeting last night, and they continue to request that any feedback on their draft be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The BRC will be hosting public forums today and tomorrow to discuss their draft proposal. Today, they will hold a session in the McCormick Dining Room at 8 p.m. and the Next Dining Room at 9 p.m. Tomorrow, meetings will be held in Baker’s dining room at 9 p.m., Simmons’ dining room at 9 p.m., and East Campus’ Talbot Lounge at 10 p.m. The committee also welcomes feedback sent to email@example.com.
Both committees will be releasing their completed proposals either this week or next. They will submit their final proposals to the Division of Student Life, which will decide on next steps.
Copies of both draft proposals are available online at http://tech.mit.edu/V129/N22/dining/.
This article was based on the first version of the DPC draft, released on April 25. A revised version was released via e-mail at 12:35 a.m. on April 28, after this article was finalized. Both versions of the DPC draft are online at the URL above.