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As a long time community member I respectfully ask the community to pretty please consider the following with regard to dining plans at MIT:

Observations

Dining Plan based living groups effectively receive an annual subsidy of about many $100k. This is neither sustainable nor fair to kitchen based living groups.

Many students dine out several times a week (often for free) at other non-dorm living groups, professional events (recruiting), department events, student activities events…

The Night Café in Simmons works quite well and appears to be profitable.

To require 7 breakfasts and 7 dinners in four dorms costs more than many students are willing to pay.

Two thousand students have signed a petition against the current dining plan!

Nevertheless, many parents (and students) want a dining plan.

Hypotheses

A fair and sustainable dining plan must be implemented, and can be a “win” for Dining and Kitchen-based living groups.

Cultures will not be adversely impacted by a dining plan if students are better able to select the ideal living group.

This can be facilitated if all living groups create culture guides (e.g., MIT-Google search “dorm culture report”, and see for example http://web.mit.edu/ec/www/pub/East_Campus_Culture_Report_2008.pdf).

The increased cost of a dining plan could be partially offset by increased diet quality, community value of eating together, and adjustments to the financial aid program.

Bold MIT-worthy creative thinking could make things even better.

Basic experiments

Evolve the proposed dining plan and work within the dining plan community to address financial, transfer/relocation, and other issues as needed.

Evolution step 1: 14, 12, 10, or 8 meals per week options should be available to all. Students should sign up in the Spring semester for the following year.

Evolution step 2: Provide dinner in the 4 dining dorms but breakfast in just two and “Night Cafés” and in at least the other two dorms.

Upgrade kitchens and facilities in the kitchen-based dorms

MIT-worthy experiments

A new interschool department “Culinary Arts” should be created where the MIT Chefs who cook at night teach by day the art, science, and history of cooking (watch out Alton Brown!)

This could be a “Freshman Experience” course.

Look at the magnificent potential, beyond just cooking and eating, that the culinary arts can inspire (e.g., Ratatouille, Emeril Lagasse, and Alton Brown). If just one such script is created in the class, it could fund dining at MIT for a long time!)

Consider a variant of Safeway’s corporate health plan: everyone pays the basic health insurance rate, and then they get rebates for healthy living.

Students on the dining plan receive rebates based on healthy lifestyles (participation in sports, organized or on their own, and meeting health goals, as determined with their doctor).

Concluding thoughts

If none of the above can help all parties come together to reach happiness, then I believe we must for at least another year keep the currently practiced dining plan in place, but it must lose far less money, which means prices do need to increase.

Alexander H. Slocum is the Pappalardo Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Chairman of the Committee on Student Life, Director of the Experimental Study Group, where he is a pasta chef for semi-weekly dinners, a Z-Center frequenter, and a Hawaiian Shirt wearing faculty member. He invites anyone who wants to discuss dining in more detail to go for a walk ‘n talk or a run.