Two new petitions fight dining process

Next and Baker House concerned about mandatory dining next fall

Two more student petitions against the new dining plan have sprung up this past week, one at Next House and another at Baker.

Early Monday morning, students at Next House submitted a petition to MIT President Susan J. Hockfield arguing that the recently approved HDAG dining plan is “wrong for us, wrong for Next House, and wrong for MIT.”

The petition, signed by 63 percent of Next House (232 signatures) argues that the current dining plan is “too expensive” and will “destroy the community at Next House by providing upperclassmen with a financial incentive to move out, making it more difficult to develop long-standing culture.”

The petition is the second petition to emerge from the dorm. The first petition, initiated three weeks ago, resulted in a Undergraduate Association bill that urged Chancellor Philip L. Clay PhD ’75 to “intervene by halting” the approval process for the new dining plan.” Since then, however, the plan has been approved, and the Request for Proposal document was distributed to vendors last week, including Aramark and Sodexo.

Colombo has agreed to meet with the petition organizers next week, they said.

Hockfield has not responded to the petition, and has not replied to repeated inquiries about whether the petition met the threshold required to command her attention.

Clay said in an e-mail yesterday that “I understand and respect the concerns of the students who drafted the petition, but we must move forward with the new dining program.”

“The petition argues for the status quo,” Clay said. “Unfortunately, we cannot remain where we are, and we can no longer offer every option to all students everywhere in the system. The current system is simply not sustainable. It also imposes severe limitations on our campus. We want to offer options that include all-you-care-to-eat (which athletes and others want), better hours (which many students desire), Kosher food in every dining hall (which the Hillel community is thrilled about), entrees and other meals that meet halal standards in all five dining halls (which Arab and Muslim students will enjoy), and breakfast (which many students want).”

Unlike Clay, Dean for Student Life Chris Colomobo has not responded to The Tech. Tom Gearty, Colombo’s spokesman, said the administration would “weigh all student input.”

Next House resident Hannah L. Pelton ’12, who initiated the petition with fellow resident Austin D. Brinson ’13 said, “We know we’re not getting an overhaul, but we would like our voices to be heard.”

Brinson added, “We want to make it very clear that we support HDAG and respect all the time and effort they have put into this dining plan. We feel, however that there is more work to be done. We’re not asking to throw away the plan but work together with whoever is willing to listen to us and come to a solution.”

When asked about HDAG’s response to the petition, Ellen B. McIsaac ’12, Next House president and HDAG member, said: “The petition is being looked at seriously. We’ve requested a general HDAG meeting for next week to talk about the petition, which administrators have acknowledged. We’re going to wait for that meeting to formally discuss our plan of action.”

Baker starts third petition

In an open letter to Baker residents Wednesday evening, Baker Dining Chair and HDAG member Cameron S. McAlpine ’13 urged residents to “voice their opinion on dining” by either “signing or not signing” a similar petition against the current dining plan.

McAlpine, though he supports the current dining plan, said, “It is my responsibility as Baker Dining Chair to accurately represent the opinions of Baker residents.”

In his e-mail, McAlpine wrote that “if there is any chance of stopping or even slowing down the RFP process, we have to get massive student support against the dining plan, if that is what students truly feel.”

The petition, which will circulate until today, makes the same arguments as the Next House petition, adding that the current plan will “interfere with the strong FSILG culture in Baker House” as students will have to “pay for both dining at Baker and at their FSILG simultaneously.”

In an interview with The Tech, McAlpine explained that if the results of the petition show a significant number of residents oppose the dining plan, “we can bring those numbers to HDAG and maximize our chances of changing the dining plan if that is what everyone wants.”

When asked about whether or not any meaningful changes could be made to the RFP at this point, McAlpine said, “We can make changes that HDAG will allow, for example changes to the hours of operation. It will be a tough battle, however, to amend the meat and bones of the dining program. If we make too many substantial changes to the RFP, vendors will raise a red flag.”

McAlpine added, “The RFP process is extremely time sensitive, so if we want to try to change it, we have to do it as soon as possible.”