Dean for Student Life Chris Colombo met with Undergraduate Association leaders last Friday to discuss possible changes to the new dining plan this fall. UA President Vrajesh Y. Modi ’11 and Vice President Samantha G. Wyman ’11 presented a proposal in which dorms would decide their own dining plan and current upperclassman could opt out of the new dining plan.
Other representatives from the Division For Student Life, the Undergraduate Association, and the House Dining Committee were also present.
According to detailed meeting minutes released by the UA, all parties expressed interest in discussing a transitional plan that would give current upperclassmen the option to opt out of the mandatory dining plan, since these upperclassmen did not know when they chose their dorm that the dining system would change. Dean for Student Life Chris Colombo did not mention whether current freshmen would also be given the option to opt out.
Sara R. Comis ’13, dining chair at McCormick, said at the meeting that McCormick residents would be interested in a plan that required less commitment from upperclassmen. “Sophomores and Juniors [at McCormick] want to opt out,” Comis said. Colombo said that he heard of similar opinions being addressed at Next House.
A concern addressed at Friday’s meeting was what impact the new dining plan will have on dorm culture. Next year, dining will be another factor that will affect where students will want to live. This includes current students who are opting to move out or into dining dorms. According to the minutes, Colombo said that “we need to take into consideration people moving around, as well as desires for the most flexible plans.”
According to Colombo, more than half of the juniors, sophomores, and freshman living at Next House signed a petition last week against the new dining plan.
“I don’t think students support this plan, and I don’t think incoming students will support it either,” Wyman, the UA vice president, said. According to Wyman, the major issues students have with the dining plan is the cost. She speculated that there would not be enough people who wanted the new plan to fill the dining dorms.
Colombo acknowledged that the dining dorms might have a popularity problem.
Comis said that she believes McCormick should be treated differently than other dorms because it is a single-sex dorm. Vrajesh agreed and said that each dorm would be able to decide its own dining plan.
Colombo said that he will put the proposal on the table for HDAG to consider.
A limit on flexibility
In order to make the dining plan more attractive to students, the UA is asking for the dining plan to be as flexible as possible. Wyman proposed that students should be given the option to buy 7 or 5 dinners and 7,2, or 0 breakfasts each week. Baker dining chair Cameron McAlpine ’13 said that he thinks that 80 percent of students will prefer the plan proposed by the UA.
Senior Associate Dean of Residential Life and Dining Henry J. Humphreys said at the meeting that the plan can only be so flexible: “As it becomes smaller, it becomes more expensive as a unit cost.”
Director of Campus Dining Richard D. Berlin agreed. In the minutes, he is cited for saying, “Having unique plans across your campus is a very difficult thing to do — one of the challenges in the current system is that companies work from stability.” He also said that the more variability you add to the plan, the more it will cost in the end.
Colombo said, “...we cannot create a meal plan that will basically serve individual wants and desires.”
As it stands, Colombo said that he believes the plan is flexible enough for us to recognize what students want in a meal plan. According to the minutes, Colombo said, “Three years down the road — we don’t know what people will want. We won’t know until we have this period of time. What if no one wants breakfast? We’re going to have to look at [it].”
McAlpine said that new students coming into MIT will come to accept the dining plan because they will not understand how it was implemented in the past. In the minutes, Bindman agreed and said “[dining is a] big deal right now, but in five years, it will seem like normal.”
The full minutes of the meeting are available online at http://ua.mit.edu.