Alterations to dining plan incite criticism, spur petition

Changes to the meal plans affect students ability to eat in both the All Campus Dining Center and the Retreat. Alterations include reduced guest swipes and a raise in the cost of each meal from $13 to $15. Photo: Spencer Davis
Changes to the meal plans affect students ability to eat in both the All Campus Dining Center and the Retreat. Alterations include reduced guest swipes and a raise in the cost of each meal from $13 to $15. Photo: Spencer Davis
Changes to the meal plans affect students ability to eat in both the All Campus Dining Center and the Retreat. Alterations include reduced guest swipes and a raise in the cost of each meal from $13 to $15. Photo: Spencer Davis

After long study, Vassar College unveiled changes to the meal plan for the year last week. In anticipation of the 2014-2015 year, Vassar has been engaged, in collaboration with Finance and Administration, in a comprehensive review of dining services in order to determine the most cost effective options for improving student satisfaction.

The resulting changes have sparked controversy among students, as well as some confusion regarding what the changes entail and who authorized them.

According to Dean of the College Christopher Roellke, it was the College, not Aramark (the Vassar’s food service partner), that elected to adjust the number of guest meals based on the data from a College review of dining services. The findings showed that last year, on average, students only used 10 of their allotted 25 guest meals. With the new meal plan, the value of five guest meals will be shifted into the declining balance portion of the meal plan. This means the total number of meal swipes will stand at 10 for the year. Furthermore, the number of regular meals on each student’s dining plan will remain unchanged.

In the past, students have brought guests into All College Dining Center (ACDC) using regular swipes; however, according to both Roellke and Senior Director of Campus Dining and campus advisor for Aramark Maureen King, “The policy is and always has been that regular meals are for students and guest meals for students or their guests.” As of now, the policy will be enforced more stringently, as cashiers become more knowledgeable about the specifics of the policy.

Since learning about the changes, many students have expressed their disappointment with the dining plan and several hundred have vocalized their discontent via a petition on Change.org.

The petition, signed predominantly by Vassar College students, asks that the college to “Stop stealing students’ money!” It outlines that while the cost of the meal plan has increased to $15 per meal, the actual benefits of the plan have decreased, as students are unable to use their already purchased meals toward family and friends. The students claim that while this was always a policy of the meal plan, the rule was never enforced, which is the reason why the number of guest swipes were under-utilized in previous years.

The petition requests “a change allowing students to use, economically and rightfully, the meals for which they have already paid for whomever they would like.” It also asks for “a public explanation of the way money is used within Campus Dining…[and that] Vassar disclose profit margins for all locations that it operates on campus.”

Originally, the discontent found in the petition was directed almost exclusively at Aramark. Since the initial petition surfaced, Dean Roellke sent out an all-campus email to the student body clarifying that it was in fact Vassar College who drove the decisions behind the changes to the policy.

Many students find that the new restrictions will prevent a large portion of the Vassar community from coming to ACDC, including seniors and other students not on the meal plan.

Student organizations, sports teams and group projects frequently use ACDC as a meeting spot, as the seating arrangement allow for large groups to sit at one table and potentially enjoy a meal.

John Sheehy ’15, addressed the impact the changes will have on sports teams. He wrote,“Team dinner is an important part of the team dynamic of the rugby team. It is how we bond as a team, and how we unwind after games. The change in this plan not only takes away from this experience, it takes away the freedom of students to spend their money when they want and where they want.”

Another student who signed the petition, Rockwell Schwartz ’15, asserted the changes with regards to student groups. She explained, “This new policy dramatically changes the way students and student organizations can interact with the dining hall. For instance, the Vassar Animal Rights Coalition consistently co-hosts special buffets with the Deece and will no longer be able to promote these dinners to students who are not on the meal plan.”

She went on to note, “The increase in price of a meal should not be accompanied by a decrease in student agency.”

Other students are frustrated not only with the changes, but also with aspects of the on-campus dining in general, particularly in regards to meal quality in comparison to cost. Lindsay Charlop ’16 said, “Vassar students have had to put up with being charged too much for low-quality meals; despite the claim that the food is expensive because most of it is locally-sourced, only 20 percent actually is and that’s unacceptable. We’ve been lied to about nutrition facts. After-hours dining options have been limited and discontinued.”

She continued, “In short, too many excuses have been made to keep our money without giving us quality food, and now this is completely unacceptable. We paid for those meals—it’s up to us how we use them!”

In response to student concerns, an additional five guest meals will be added to every meal plan. Furthermore, according to Dean Roellke, students living in the apartments and co-ops who are not on a full meal plan still have the option of purchasing a small number of meals with a declining balance.

The optional apartment/co-op plan includes 30 meals for the semester and 185 dining bucks.

There is also a Faculty Associates Dining Program, which aims to allow for opportunities for informal student and faculty conversations, recognizing that the All Campus Dining Center as an important social space. The program can be utilized to combat these concerns through its innovative payment plan. The associates program also enables any faculty member to accompany one or more students to the ACDC and both faculty and students are charged a lower price of $5 for entry.

Despite the additional guest meals added, the response from the administration has been somewhat limited in other areas. No discussion has been made as to the possibility of ending Vassar’s contract with Aramark, and the demand for disclosure about the pricing of meals remains unanswered.

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