In response to complaints, tweaks made to dining

HDAG offers new lunch options as well as a cheaper $2,500 plan, though many still aren’t happy

3487 dining
Connor Kirschbaum
3488 dining 1
The above data is up-to-date and taken from the MIT Housing website. The data includes students moving into dorms from off-campus.
Sarah ritter—The Tech

Dean for Student Life Chris Colombo and the House and Dining Advisory Group (HDAG) updated the dining plan yesterday with lunch options as well as a cheaper $2,500 plan to appease upperclassmen wary of mandatory dining.

Students can now pay more for the option of getting lunch at Maseeh Hall. Current sophomores and juniors who want the minimum can choose a $2,500 “transition” plan that offers 7 meals a week. In an e-mail sent out to undergraduates, Colombo said the changes to the dining plan came about as a response to student concerns over cost, flexibility and the impact on community at FSILGs and non-dining dorms.

According to Henry J. Humphreys, senior associate dean of residential life and dining, there will be no more changes to the types or prices of plans offered.

Many students are still dissatisfied, especially with the transition plan, which is available only to current sophomore and juniors and will be phased out after the current sophomores graduate. Keone D. Hon ’11, creator of the anti-dining petition said, “These changes are absolutely not adequate enough. As articulated in the petition, we don’t accept ‘grandfathering’ as an acceptable solution.”

Hon launched a letter-writing campaign last night that has yielded over 40 e-mails to Colombo in the space of a couple hours.

The new plans

For a couple hundred dollars extra, the new lunch plans allow students to allocate their weekly meals between breakfast, dinner or lunch (which will only be offered at Maseeh Hall). Students who live in Maseeh hall will have to buy these premium flex plans; other students will be able to choose between these or the regular plans, which offer a fixed number of breakfasts and dinners a week.

For instance, the “Basic 14” plan offers 14 meals a week, 7 dinners and 7 breakfasts, for $3,800 a year. For $500 more, the “Any 14” plan still only offers 14 meals a week, but those meals can be any combination of breakfasts/brunches, lunches or dinners.

In general, the cheaper plans will only be offered to upperclassmen.

The transition plan is the cheapest plan, offering 7 flexible meals a week. Only the classes of 2012 and 2013 will be able to purchase it.

Students in the incoming class of 2015 will have to buy the most expensive plans. At Maseeh, this means the $4,500, 19-meals-a-week flexible plan. At other dining dorms, this means they will have to buy at minimum the 14-meals-a-week rigid plan, for $3,800.

Addressing student concerns

Administrators say that giving upperclassmen the option to purchase cheaper plans will ease the transition into the new dining system.

“We’re offering the transition plan that will allow dorm cultures to stay intact,” Humphreys said. “The flexibility of the plan takes into account students’ busy schedules and will give more options if they were considering moving out.”

But some students complain that the essence of the new plan has not changed. “DSL administrators seem more concerned with winning this battle against the students, than with creating a good dining plan. The new option offered today reflects this, and it does nothing to solve the underlying problems with the plan or address the concerns of freshmen and future underclassmen,” Baker president Andy Wu ’11 said in an e-mail to Baker House and the Undergraduate Association last night. In that same e-mail, Wu announced his resignation from the House Dining Advisory Group.

Tom Gearty, director of communications for the Division of Student Life, said the new plan does not mean the end of community at FSILGs and off-campus dorms. “We can improve community in the house dining system without working to the detriment of the other communities with concerns. You’re MIT students — if anyone can adapt and innovate, it’s this community.”

Some worry that mandatory dining will discourage pledges still living in dorms from eating dinner at their fraternities. Gearty said, “Can it have an impact? Possibly yes. We will have to go into discussion about how to mitigate it. We won’t know until we put the plan into place and we’ll try to accommodate the concerns as we move forward.”

Hon believes that students will not be satisfied with the transition plan. “It’s inclusion surprised us in that the transition plan isn’t even that attractive to students in dining dorms right now,” he said.

Hon also cited concerns about lack of transparency in the process of formulating the new dining plan.

“We’re concerned with HDAG’s attitudes that certain concerns will be addressed as time passes on. All these issues should have been vetted thoroughly during the process that happened last year. We want the commitment from administration that everything is on the table, without the basic restrictive fundamental assertions that got us to our current proposed dining plan,” he said.

Both Wu and Hon urged students to continue protesting the dining plan. In his e-mail, Wu asked Bakerites to sign the SayNo petition, while Hon asked students to e-mail Dean Colombo their opinions on the revised plan. The letters were copied to The Tech. As of Monday midnight, there were 41 e-mails, all of them in opposition to the proposed plan, and several sent from parents of students.

Hon sees the changes as a small, if unsatisfactory step forward.

“One positive message that comes out of this announcement, however, is the acknowledgement by HDAG and Colombo that the plan can be revised, which contradicts their earlier assertion that there is no room for changes,” Hon said. “These revisions, though minimal, show that the process of settling on MIT’s new dining plan is still ongoing and that the overwhelming student outcry is having an effect.”

Humphreys told The Tech, however, in both an interview and e-mail correspondence that the structure of the plans is now final. Future changes would only involve other minor adjustments, “such as hours of operation and food options for residents who have particular dietary, religious or personal needs.”

Humphreys sees the new plan as a return to form for MIT. “Twenty years ago, MIT had a meal plan, and for the past twenty years, people have been experimenting with various plans, none of which have worked. This new system will at last provide quality food and nutrition, benefiting the MIT community.”