Final Blue Ribbon Dining Report Removes Some Unpalatable Recommendations

The final report of the Blue Ribbon Committee on Dining to MIT, dated May 11, 2009, recommends that the existing House Dining program be dismantled and replaced with a declining-balance program. But in the report, the committee says it does not recommend a mandatory meal plan for all students, charging students in dining hall dorms an “opt out fee” where they would pay to eat nothing, or turning the MacGregor Hall convenience store into a dining hall.

The report is available online at The Tech’s website at

As of Thursday night, this report is only publicly available on The Tech’s website. The committee was supposed to release the report on Monday, May 11, but it had not responded to multiple e-mails asking about the status of the report.

Donna Denoncourt, associate dean for residential life and chair of the committee, wrote in an e-mail to The Tech on Friday, May 29 that Dean for Student Life Chris “Colombo wanted to review the material with the committee members before making the document public to ensure his full understanding of the recommendations prior to public reaction.”

According to Denoncourt, Colombo plans to review the reports with available members of the two committees during the week of June 8.

A copy of the report, marked “final” and dated May 11, was provided to The Tech by a source close to the committee. The report has already been circulated among MIT administrators, including Colombo.

What’s changed?

The report retained most of the recommendations from the second draft released on May 5. Its recommendations still include offering all-you-can-eat meals in at least one central location on campus and improving breakfast and late-night dining options, for example.

But the final report also reveals some dissent within the committee. Four proposals were “not recommended”, even though a majority of the committee supported three of them, because a 75 percent vote in favor was needed to make any proposal a “recommendation.”

Yes on declining-balance, no on $600 minimum

The committee recommended that students pay into a declining-balance system, where students pay up front in exchange for a certain number of meals per semester. But a proposed minimum amount of $600 semester was not recommended, with 60 percent (9 of 15 voters) in favor.

Narrow no on “opt-out” fee

Students whose dormitory had a dining hall, but who didn’t want to buy a meal plan there, would have still paid a $500 opt-out fee to help subsidize the costs of the system, in another proposal that was not recommended. The fee would have helped subsidize the costs of a dining hall system which was projected to spend more than $500 per dining-hall-dorm resident per semester.

But the idea of an opt-out fee was rejected by the narrowest of margins, with 11 people voting in favor and 4 against. That was a 73 percent vote, not enough to garner the proposal “recommended” status.

The committee voted separately on the specific opt-out value of $500, which was also rejected with 7 votes in favor and 8 against.

No on hot food in MacGregor

While the report contains many detailed recommendations about how dining at MIT can be improved, one suggestion proved controversial: putting a dining hall in MacGregor. The committee did not recommend the idea of “upgrading” the late-night MacGregor Convenience store into “an operation that offers hot food, late night, and delivery services.” It was not recommended despite a two-thirds vote (10 of 15 were in favor of converting MacGregor Convenience).

Previous attempts at putting a dining hall in MacGregor have recently ended poorly: a pilot program providing dinner weekly was popular in 2006–7, but it lost steam (and, residents said, quality) in its second year. That program was discontinued in February 2009.

The 75% approval requirement was a concession to students who said they didn’t feel sufficiently included after a draft of a report by outside consultants to the dining committee was leaked early this spring. Of the 18 current committee members listed in the final report, 10 are students; the report does not say which of those members voted on its recommendations.

The UA Dining Proposal Committee, an all-student committee created by the UA to prepare a separate recommendation, released its final report on May 4.

That report recommended closing McCormick Hall’s dining hall in the short term, citing its large deficit. In the long term, it recommended closing the dining halls in Baker House and Simmons Hall, replacing them with a central dining hall, and keeping the dining halls in Next House and NW35 open.