The committee tasked with redesigning MIT’s dining system agreed to make more information public and increase student say at its first meeting since a consultants’ report to the committee was leaked two Saturdays ago.
The reforms to the Blue Ribbon Committee on Dining include a new website and a measure to require a 75% committee member vote of confidence to approve any final recommendation made by the committee.
Since 9 of the 18 committee members are students, any final recommendation from the committee must effectively be approved by a majority of its student members.
The website, at http://web.mit.edu/dining/feedback/blueribbon.html, will post redacted meeting minutes after each meeting. A calendar and timeline of committee activity are planned but not yet available.
Students staged a protest against mandatory dining last week after the leak of a proposal written by a consulting firm hired by the committee. The dining options included in that proposal had every student paying some fee, a significant departure from the current system in which many students do not pay any dining fee.
Donna M. Denoncourt, Associate Dean of Residential Life and chair of the committee, said that the committee heard “loud and clear” the reaction of students, but that it was too early to say whether mandatory meal plans would be a part of the final recommendation by the committee.
It was “always in the plan to go back and forth with the consultant,” Denoncourt said, and consultants will be asked to modify their proposal based on input from the committee.
MIT has already spent around $45,000 since November 2007 on consulting services from Envision Strategies, the firm hired to aid the committee in developing a new plan for dining. Denoncourt said the committee has budgeted for continued consulting services from Envision.
Members of the committee discovered two weeks ago that the consultants’ report to be sent to them would be a second draft. The first draft, which was received by the administration at the end of January, was sent back for revision to the consultants before notifying the committee of the first draft’s existence.
That initial, unchanged report was distributed to committee members yesterday afternoon.
Denoncourt said that the committee will decide whether to release that initial report publicly. This first report was revised after administrator input, before the committee knew the report existed; a second, expanded copy was made available to the committee on Feb. 13 and was soon leaked to students.
The consultants’ report expanded to 17 pages from 6 pages after it received input from administrators, Denoncourt said yesterday.
Denoncourt said that initial report made recommendations with minimal supporting data. She said that the revisions only added the data and explanations without changing any actual recommendations.
Karen A. Nilsson, Senior Associate Dean for Residential Life, told The Tech in an article written on Feb. 13, 2009 that changes to the consultant’s work recommended by administrators before reaching the committee were minor. She was not available for comment yesterday night.
The committee will also likely add a new member, Preeya S. Phadnis ’09. Phadnis attended the last meeting in the place of James Torres ’10, current DormCon president and a committee member. Phadnis expressed interest in joining the committee permanently, Denoncourt said. Recommended by Dean for Student Life Costantino Colombo and approved by Denoncourt, Phadnis will likely join the committee.
The original members of the committee were recommended by then-Dean for Student Life Larry G. Benedict and they include the offices of the UA president and vice president. UA President Noah S. Jessop ’09 and UA Vice President Michael A. Bennie ’10 were added to the committee when they were elected last year.
Phadnis would be the first student member to join the committee outside of that process.
Bennie said that unclear rules regarding voting and membership are one reason why “students are nervous” about the committee. He said that the committee is working to “solidify” its policies regarding voting and membership.
Denoncourt said that the public meeting minutes would be redacted because the committee wants to “maintain trust” in internal discussions. “I would like people to feel comfortable talking in the committee meetings,” said Denoncourt.
The UA Senate voted last week on a bill calling for the dissolution of the Blue Ribbon Committee on Dining. It cited a lack of transparency, among other reasons.
The Senate discussed passing a new bill commenting on the committee’s direction last night, but the senators decided to table the discussion until the Senate’s next meeting.
Jessop said that “[the changes] will be able to address most of the points in the bill.” He said he was “optimistic” about the direction the committee is headed.
Michael McGraw-Herdeg contributed to the reporting of this article