Toward a Better Dining System

Why the UA Senate Has Formed an Alternative to the Blue Ribbon Dining Committee

As many of you are surely aware, the future of MIT’s dining system has become a subject of great controversy on campus, especially for undergraduates. In this letter, we hope to inform you of what the Undergraduate Association has been doing to ensure that student input is properly considered before decisions are made.

The Blue Ribbon Committee on Dining (BRC), an Institute Committee consisting of students, faculty, and administrators, was created in October 2007 to investigate the state of dining at MIT and recommend improvements. The BRC has been tasked to produce a final set of recommendations by the end of April. Over the past several months, the Undergraduate Association has made multiple requests for greater transparency and accountability from the Blue Ribbon Committee. While the BRC has made great strides, it seems that the BRC’s desire to move forward has turned the committee’s focus away from transparency and fair process.

Student leaders have expressed concern that the committee’s student membership is not adequately representative of all dining preferences. Others were disconcerted to hear that the report written by the Blue Ribbon Committee’s hired consulting firm was significantly altered by administrators before it reached the committee. In spite of these grievances, the BRC recently closed its membership, asserting that no student members will be added — not even to fill seats vacated last year by graduating members of the Class of 2008. Moreover, the committee still has not released the original version of the consultant’s report for comparison. As a result of these decisions, many fear that the BRC’s final recommendations will not sufficiently incorporate student preferences.

Acting on these concerns, the UA Senate voted on Monday to form the Dining Proposal Committee (DPC). This committee, which will be composed of undergraduate students who represent the broad variety of dining styles on campus, will be charged with formulating a comprehensive dining program that meets the needs of the MIT community. Additionally, the UA hopes that the student members of the BRC will be open to working with the DPC. The Dining Proposal Committee’s report will be submitted to the UA Senate for deliberation in mid-April and will reach the desks of administrators, alongside the Blue Ribbon Committee’s final recommendations, at the end of April.

A reasonable set of recommendations requires informed conclusions about students’ habits and preferences. For this purpose, the Blue Ribbon Committee conducted an extensive survey of dining habits on campus last year. Student representatives have made repeated requests for the survey data to be released for public review, but the BRC’s leadership has consistently refused. Frustrated by this lack of transparency, the UA Senate unanimously passed a resolution on Monday that calls on senior administrators to authorize the release of the survey data to the MIT community for independent analysis. According to the text of the resolution, a failure to release the data would be considered a “fundamental breach of trust on the part of the administration, which has continually promised increased transparency.” UA Vice President Mike Bennie is currently communicating this perspective in discussions with administrators.

As prospective undergraduates, we were drawn to MIT because of its reputation for being honest, open, and willing to help. According to its mission statement, the Institute is “committed to generating, disseminating, and preserving knowledge.” This commitment is central to the identity of the Institute, and we hope it will guide the administration in all of its future dealings with students.

If you have questions about this or any other issue affecting undergraduates at MIT, you can always approach your living group’s Senator. If you are interested in serving on the Dining Proposal Committee, please fill out the application on the Nomination Committee’s website at http://ua.mit.edu/dining.html.

Paul Baranay ’11 is the chair of the UA Nominations Committee. Richard A. Dahan ’12 is a UA Senator representing New House. Daniel D. Hawkins ’12 is a UA Senator representing Simmons Hall.