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On May 19, the House Dining Advisory Group (HDAG) released its 4-page final recommendation for House Dining, effective in Fall 2011. The new plan offers all-you-can-eat breakfast and dinner seven days a week at the four dorms with dining halls (Baker, McCormick, Next, and Simmons). The final costs will depend on the selected vendor, but are now estimated to be $2,900/year for the cheapest plan and $3,800/year for the most expensive.

In its final recommendation, the HDAG required that at least one dining hall should remain open “late enough to accommodate athletes and other students who return to their Houses after 8 p.m.” Breakfast will be served during a two-hour period on weekdays and a full brunch service will be offered in a three-hour period on weekends. The current $300 plan will remain the same for the 2010-2011 academic year, with no change in the service provided.

As with the current House Dining Membership, all students living in dorms with dining halls will be required to participate in the new House Dining plan. Students outside of these dorms may opt-in to the plan.

Anne M. Juan ’12, a member of the HDAG and Next House Dining Chair, said that the plan “adds a breakfast component which many people were excited about and I am also in huge favor of. It has a take-out component which I think is important to every MIT student’s on-the-go lifestyle, and it has dining open at Next House seven days a week, which is nice because I don’t enjoy having to trek to Baker on the weekends.”

Celeste I. Faaiuaso ’12 chose not to thoroughly read the recommendation because, at the time, “it wasn’t a priority for me to look at it,” she said. The recommendation was released on the Wednesday of finals week.

In his email to MIT undergrads revealing the final recommendation, Dean for Student Life Chris Colombo recognized the timing: “once the end-of-the-semester intensity is behind us and you have time to breathe again, I encourage you to review the full HDAG recommendation.”

According to Tom Gearty, spokesman for Colombo, “We understand that it’s not an ideal time to release important news to the community, but at the same time, … a review in discussion of dining has been going on now for more than two years at MIT, and we did not want to delay the information once we had it.” Gearty also said, “we tried to err on the side of getting information out“ while students were still on campus.

As a New House resident, Faaiuaso is not required to participate in House Dining. When asked if she plans to opt-in to the meal plan when it becomes effective in her senior year, Faaiuaso said, “It’s up to my parents because they’re the ones paying.”

Lunch is not included in the new plan, and it does not cover Independent Activities Period in January. According to the final recommendation, “attendance during IAP is not required for nearly all MIT students; lunch in the residences is not a convenient or feasible option for MIT students.” The HDAG recommends further discussion on these aspects of dining: “we strongly urge the Dean for Student Life to use the year between now and the implementation of the meal plan to study the balance between meal plan costs, the period covered by the meal plan, and the board allowance set by MIT for financial aid.“

There are three options within the new dining plan. Freshmen participating in House Dining are required to purchase the 14-meals per week option, which accounts for seven dinners and seven breakfasts. Sophomores may decide between the 14-meals or 12-meals per week plans whereas juniors and seniors have the option to purchase 10, 12, or 14 meals per week. In each meal plan, the number of meals is divided equally between breakfast and dinner.

The projected annual prices for the 10-, 12-, and 14-meals per week plans are $2,900, $3,400, and $3,800 per year, respectively. According to the House Dining Review website, http://studentlife.mit.edu/house-dining-review, these prices “are based on two 15-week semesters and derive from models developed by Campus Dining and a representative from the Office of the Vice President for Finance.”

According to Samuel Rodarte Jr. ’12, a UA senator for the Phoenix Group, “I do like the aspect that the new plan allows students to eat at any of the four dining halls and the all-you-can-eat aspect, as long as the quality of the food does not decrease and a-la-carte grill and stir fry options remain. Many of my constituents fear that once this new plan is implemented, we will only see trays of food at the dining halls and not the current option to order our own stir-fry or grill items.”

HDAG process

Juan commented on the focus on student input during HDAG meetings: “Dean Colombo was absolutely adamant that students spoke up during the meeting. Every time a new idea came up, he would listen to whoever had something to say and then he’d ask, ‘How do the students feel about this? Would you use this idea? Would your dorms agree with this?’”

Dining forums were held across campus in April, where students could voice their suggestions for the new plan. Gearty attended all these forums, and said, “one of the things that was instructive was that the issues were the same. We were hearing the same range of concerns, ideas, and wishes for House Dining.” According to Gearty, this repetition of topics “helped us feel confident that we understood the student perspective.”

The HDAG collected further student input on the House Dining Review Idea Bank. In the coming weeks, Richard Berlin, Director of Campus Dining, and Gearty will draft responses to student suggestions

Gearty said he heard from students that they were not sure if or how their ideas submitted to the Institute-Wide Planning Task Force Idea Bank were regarded. “They never got the sense that the idea was considered. We want to make sure that our Idea Bank isn’t a black hole, where ideas go in and just disappear. So, even where we have to disagree with somebody, we want to make sure you get a response,” said Gearty.

According to Juan, “I definitely believe that students had adequate input into this plan and though it doesn’t please everyone, it serves and benefits MIT as a community.”

Rodarte, on the other hand, felt that the process could have been less rushed: “Overall, I did feel that the HDAG process was short and speedy, not necessarily the best time-frame to obtain student input. The administrators have been working on this for few years and in a matter of weeks they want develop and receive feedback from the students about entirely new dining plans.”

According to the House Dining Review website, “in the coming months, Campus Dining will prepare a request for proposal (RFP) based upon the HDAG recommendation … This RFP will then be released and a vendor will be selected to operate the new House Dining program when it commences in Fall 2011.“

Campus Dining will also work with each of the dining hall dorms to establish their hours of meal service. Renovation and construction to accommodate this new plan will occur next academic year.