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Mandatory meal plans, all-you-can-eat (AYCE) dining halls, and longer service hours have been proposed by a consulting firm tasked with suggesting a future dining strategy for MIT. The proposal also recommends expanding dining hall service to include breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Envision Strategies — the consulting firm — made the recommendations to the Blue Ribbon Committee on Dining, a group of students and administrators charged by former Dean for Student Life Larry G. Benedict to investigate the structure of campus dining. Both a draft 82-slide presentation and a draft 17-page executive summary were leaked to various dormitory e-mail discussion lists on Saturday night.

The proposals are not final; the Blue Ribbon Committee plans to evaluate the consultants’ report and make final recommendations to the administration regarding the future of dining at MIT.

New meal plans

All meal plans in the proposal require a significantly higher mandated minimum contribution than current meal plans. The report bases its plans on the idea that students should set aside money to be used exclusively for dining.

A component of all plans is “dining dollars,” money similar to TechCASH that can be spent on food. The report recommends allowing dining dollars to be spent at on-campus dining venues, convenience stores, and local grocery stores.

Under the proposed plan, freshmen living in residences with AYCE dining (the report suggests Baker, Next House, and Simmons) would be required to purchase a plan that costs at least $1,350 per semester. The minimal plan offers 75 meals (5 per week) and $650 in dining dollars.

Freshmen living in other dormitories would have the option of selecting all of the plans available to those in AYCE residences, plus several declining-balance plans. The cheapest — which costs $995 per semester — offers no dining hall meals and $995 in dining dollars.

The required contribution from students decreases as seniority increases, but the lowest contribution required is still $800 per semester, a plan available only to juniors and seniors. Upperclassmen in dormitories with AYCE dining halls would still be required to choose a plan that includes a number of AYCE meals.

Currently, the five dormitories with dining halls — Baker House, McCormick Hall, Next House, Simmons Hall, and NW35 — require that residents subscribe to a $300-per-semester meal plan that offers students 50 percent off à la carte items at all dormitory dining halls. NW35 offers an AYCE dinner for $8 ($4 with the dining plan). Currently, residents of dormitories without dining halls do not have a requirement to subscribe to any meal plan.

The consultants also made a variety of suggestions to expand dining to the east side of campus, such as re-opening Pritchett as an AYCE dining hall.

Rationale

The impetus for mandatory meal plans and dining halls that offer longer hours and AYCE options in the proposal seem to come largely from concerns over the low percentage of students reported to maintain a balanced diet — less than 20 percent of undergraduates and 30 percent of graduate students, according to a campus-wide spring 2008 survey administered by Envision Strategies and the Blue Ribbon Committee.

The draft report cites encouraging proper nutrition as one of the key purposes of a campus dining program. They state a vision that “dining plans should insure that economic considerations do not compromise student nutrition.”

In addition to nutrition, social engagement and community building were also listed as primary justifications for the recommendations.

Sit-down dining venues “may be more conducive for social engagement,” according to the report.

The report claims “thoughts that survey respondents tend to agree upon” included “MIT should offer a global meal plan to build community,” “Meals are an important part of the residential life experience,” and “Broader commitments are justified if it results in lower costs and better service.”

The slide presentation, however, notes that “students do not think there should be a meal plan commitment, regardless of where they live.”

Student reactions

Many students have reacted negatively to the recommendations, and some have organized events to discuss or protest the recommendations.

The proposal will be discussed at an emergency Undergraduate Association Senate meeting on Monday, Feb. 16 at 7 p.m. in W20-401. The meeting was called by UA President Noah S. Jessop ’09 last Wednesday when students voiced concerns that the administration did not submit the consultants’ report directly to the committee, electing instead to review the proposal before submitting it the Blue Ribbon Committee.

A meeting is being held at the Burton-Conner Porter Room on Sunday, Feb. 15 at 9 p.m. by students interested in discussing the report. Also, a protest at noon on Tuesday, Feb. 17 in Lobby 7 is being organized.