A new link to “minutes” from the House Dining Advisory Group meetings was posted on the House Dining Review website last week. The document communicates frustratingly little concrete information and highlights the extent to which HDAG has failed to deliver on its promise of transparency and student engagement.
The minutes provide only vague summaries of what happens during meetings, telling us, for example that the group “discuss[ed] a second set of meal plan scenarios” on April 28, but not detailing any of the actual plans under consideration nor any of the meeting attendees’ opinions and suggestions, nor any votes that occurred. Rather than building transparency, the minutes help to remind us just how many important discussions are going on behind closed doors.
The vague meeting summaries are the latest in a string of failures the Division of Student Life has managed to accumulate during HDAG’s short lifespan. It left the most important questions about the new house dining system out of HDAG’s consideration, deciding before the group ever met that students in dining hall dorms would be forced to buy a meal plan. It also decided the set of plans that the group would initially consider, all of which cost at least $1,850. HDAG opened its online Idea Bank to solicit student questions and suggestions three weeks later than planned. The group’s responses to Idea Bank entries are almost as vague at the posted meeting summaries and have no attributions. And, the Division of Student Life has failed to adequately engage the Undergraduate Association in its discussions, both inside of HDAG and out.
Still, HDAG’s practices and purview represent an improvement over some of DSL’s previous attempts to tackle the dining issue. The fact that the Idea Bank exists at all is a step forward in terms of transparency, and so are the meeting summaries. The House Dining Review website aggregates an impressive amount of information about current issues with dining as well as the history of dining at MIT, including all major dining-reform-related documents since 1956. Perhaps most importantly, the Division for Student Life listened last year when students objected to campus-wide dining reform — as a result, HDAG’s current plans will only affect dorms with House Dining. These are all steps in the right direction, but further progress must be made if the Division of Student Life is truly committed to making its decisions transparent.
The Tech reported on April 9 that HDAG planned to announce its new meal plan during the week of May 3. That week has just passed. If the group is finding it needs more time to incorporate student opinion, then by all means, they should keep on talking. But in the meantime, it should post more detailed minutes that keep the student body informed.