Pros and Cons for a Meal Plan System Change
Over the past few weeks, a proposal to change the fundamental meal plan system of Dartmouth Dining Services has garnered a lot of attention. In some ways this proposal is a vast improvement over the current one, but in other aspects it fails to accomplish significant positive change.
I was shocked and appalled by the Student Assembly's decision Tuesday against holding a student-wide referendum on the issue.
The recommendations of the Meal Plan Task Force are of vital concern to every student at Dartmouth, but instead of allowing all students a voice in the decision making process, the Assembly has slammed the door in their face.
I'd like to examine a few questions that students have been asking as well as the pros and cons of the dining system proposal.
The difference between the $400 the student pays for DBA in this new plan and the $330 in food that you would be eligible to purchase is basically a subsidy which goes to cover DDS's costs.
Currently, the freshman meal plan serves as that subsidy. Freshman pay $938 per term but only get approximately $658 in food purchases. The other $280 goes to subsidize the system. This plan takes the subsidy that is currently being paid for by freshman and spread it over all four classes by dividing the $280 difference in the freshmen meal plan by 4.
Two reasons exist for DDS's subsidy.
The first reason, according to Tucker Rossiter, associate director of DDS, is that DDS offers special programming that is not cost effective but that fills a niche. Rossiter offers as examples late night hours, the Kosher deli, Full Fare and food delivery.
As a second reason, I would add that DDS is not as efficient as it could be and that a lot of money is lost due to inefficiency and the lack of competition because of DDS' monopoly status.
Now, I'd like to examine the arguments for and against the Meal Plan Task Force proposal. I'll list them in order of relative importance.
A main argument for the proposal is that it eliminates the freshman meal plan. It goes without saying that the overwhelming majority of students dislike the freshman meal plan and that they'd like to get rid of it.
The problem with changing from the freshman meal plan to the $70 fee system is that during the transition three classes are going to have to subsidize DDS twice since they paid as freshmen and will have to pay again as upperclassmen -- "Double Jeopardy." If this plan goes into effect next fall it will cost, on average, students in the Class of 1998 $630, the '97s $420, and the '98's $210.
On the other side, the elimination of the freshman meal plan would eliminate gender inequalities. Marcia Herrin, the school's nutritionist, points to the fact that numerous female (and some male) students come to her with eating disorders that are related to the rigid structure of the freshman meal plan.
Also it can be argued that since punches benefit those who eat at Full Fare the most and that the majority of Full Fare eaters are men, men disproportionately benefit at the expense of women..
On an economic level, this plan does not address the fundamental economic problems of DDS, since it merely seeks to spread the subsidy out over four years. A strong argument can be made that the economic aspect needs to be addressed before any major reform can be undertaken.
You can also question the fact that under this plan the $70 fee does not get you any food or special privileges that you don't have now as students. It has been pointed out that under this plan it would be cheaper for outsiders to eat at Thayer Dining Hall than a Dartmouth student since the outsider need not pay the $70 fee.
But the refundability of this new plan is a major plus. Currently upperclassmen can refund only $100 at the end of the term. Under this new proposal after you pay the $70 fee, all of the other money you have in DBA can be refunded to you at the end of the term. For example, if you choose the minimum $400 DBA option and spend no DBA you'll receive $330 back.
However this $70 fee is not guaranteed to be constant in the future. It is possible that each time DDS needs more money, instead of trying to be more cost-effective, it will simply raise this fee.
This is, of course, merely speculation but Rossiter told the Student Assembly last week that the fee could be raised as little as $6 in the next three years, and that it could be as high as a $20 increase. The major concern is that, somewhat analogous to a tax, this fee could be raised whenever funds are needed.
Clearly, there are strong arguments for both sides. I hope this helps clarify the situation and gives you some insight into the thinking behind these decisions.
The arguments presented by the Assembly in defeating the resolution to hold a student body vote are extremely weak.
Members said that the general student body does not have enough information about the issue.
First of all, this view severely underestimates the intelligence and awareness of the student body.
Secondly, information dissemination is the Assembly's responsibility. If the Assembly is not keeping students informed, then the Assembly is shirking that responsibility.
The Assembly argued that only half the students would probably turn out, ensuring that the results would be biased. But the Assembly did not even have half its own members present at Tuesday's meeting.
Students deserve better than this. I urge the Assembly to reconsider and allow all students an opportunity for their voices to be heard.