The Campus Dining Petition

Wrong for dining dorms; wrong for students; wrong for MIT

Introduction

This is a petition to express our dissatisfaction with the new dining plan.

The text of the petition and a form to sign it is given below. Additional information and discussion on the points below are available in the discussion section.

The Petition

November 17, 2010

Dear President Hockfield, Chancellor Clay, Dean Colombo, Housemasters of MIT, Members of HDAG, and Members of the Faculty:

We, the undersigned, write to voice our objection to the new dining plan proposed by the House Dining Advisory Group (HDAG), which is slated to begin next fall.

We have read the specific details of the proposed dining plan:

  • We understand that there will be a 'take out" option.
  • We understand that the initial mandatory commitment will decrease over time: $3800 for freshmen, $3800 or $3400 for sophomores, and $3800, $3400, or $2900 for juniors and seniors.
  • We understand that hours will be staggered across the system in order to accommodate more schedules.
We still do not support this plan for the following reasons, which are further detailed below:
  • It nearly doubles the cost of food.
  • The motivation given for its launch - an annual deficit of $600,000 - is misleading and most likely is not even solved by it.
  • It will cause many of us to move if we refuse to accept the expense. This negatively impacts both dining and non-dining dorms.
  • It will hurt FSILGs and clubs, which are essential components of the MIT experience, by discouraging dining dorm residents from participating in dinnertime activities
  • It is not right for us and not right for MIT. Our opinion was ignored by HDAG the first time around; we demand that the plan be revised immediately to earn our approval.

Expense

The new plan is too expensive - after accounting for missed meals, IAP, and lunches, it will nearly double the cost of food. Several surveys indicate that current student expenditures average $1700 (non-dining dorms) to $2300 (dining dorms) annually, while expenditures under the dining plan will easily exceed $5000. [discussion]

The high cost of the plan relative to existing costs is not clear from the information published by the house dining website, as misleading comparisons and questionable data analysis obscure the reality. Students must be given full and accurate information about costs and in this case they were not.

As such, we object - both to the expense and to the way the expense is inaccurately portrayed. [discussion]

Sustainability

We also reject the argument that the new dining plan is necessary to make dining sustainable.

First, we feel that the notion of sustainability needs clarification. The supporters of the HDAG plan will gladly remind us that the current house dining system receives a subsidy of approximately $600,000 annually, but they often fail to mention that the subsidy comes from profits from other areas of dining, such as W20. In other words, the dining system as a whole is self-sufficient. Many departments have individual business units with varying levels of profitability; it is unfair to portray house dining as a major tax on the whole Institute budget.

More to the point, we expect that the cost to financial aid will exceed any savings from eliminating the deficit, rendering any arguments about sustainability useless. (The only case in which this would not occur would be if MIT failed to increase its financial aid to reflect the higher costs under mandatory dining, in which case there are bigger issues in play.) We have not seen the plan's authors address these additional costs to MIT, and so we find the repeated emphasis on financial sustainability to ring hollow indeed. [discussion]

More generally, we object to the practice of using the supposed deficit as an unquestionable motivation for expanding the dining system. Cries of "we have no choice; the bottom line demands it" are immediately suspect when used to justify expanding, not shrinking, a comparatively expensive program.

Negative impact on both dining and non-dining dorms

The plan forces us to move out if we are unwilling to pay for meals that we will not eat.

It will destroy the community within dining dorms by providing upperclassmen with a financial incentive to move out, making it more difficult to develop long-standing culture.

It will destroy culture within non-dining dorms by providing an influx of students who chose to move into one of these dorms due to the lower cost, even if the culture is not right for them.

It will also increase the length of inter-dorm waitlists, decreasing mobility for students who wish to switch dorms for other reasons.

We are particularly disturbed that the existence of expensive mandatory dining plans in some dorms will result in segregation by wealth. Egalitarianism is a fundamental tenet of MIT and we cannot support a plan that creates such different costs between dorms that poorer students will be driven away and forced to cluster together.

MIT's housing system, which allows students to find a home that truly suits them culturally, is one of the unique parts of our undergraduate experience. Elevating the cost of living in a dining dorm forces some students to compromise their cultural preferences to save money; this is fundamentally at odds with the MIT philosophy of student housing. [discussion]

Negative impacts on FSILGs/clubs

FSILGs are an essential part of the MIT community; while individual students residing in their FSILGs would mostly avoid the mandatory dining plan, their organizations would face significant effects.

Freshmen or other on-campus members who are on the mandatory dining plan are less inclined to forfeit a prepaid meal to attend dinner with their FSILG, which is an important bonding time for many FSILGs.

Clubs use food to attract attendees to events; having students purchase a full dinner plan in advance will hurt attendance at lectures and meetings where free food is often a powerful incentive.

MIT's strong student activities and FSILG systems are significant to the undergraduate experience. The new dining plan will hurt these integral aspects of student life by decreasing participation; this effect has not been properly investigated. [discussion]

Disregard for student opinion

We reject HDAG's argument that it adequately considered student opinion by responding to questions and concerns throughout the proposal-forming process.

Our signatures to this petition are a clear indication that HDAG did not adequately consider our student opinion. [discussion] HDAG never asked us the only question that truly measures student support: 'Do you approve of the final plan we have proposed?' This petition is our answer to this question: we do not approve of the plan.

We are dismayed by the argument that "everything will be okay'' in four years once the system reaches steady state, since the current students have graduated and the new students have "gotten used to" the plan. Even if this argument were true, it completely discounts the experience of those of us who are here now.

HDAG sees the new dining plan as an opportunity to reshape students lives for the better, for example by increasing the rate at which students engage in the healthy habit of eating breakfast. We reject this view as paternalistic and uninformed. [discussion] The party best-equipped to assess the needs of future students is us, the current students, and we say that this new dining plan does not fit the needs of present or future students.

Conclusion

The proposed dining plan will harm many of the unique aspects of MIT; it is wrong for us and wrong for MIT.

We demand major revisions to the dining plan. In particular, implementing the HDAG proposal but "grandfathering" it in to give current students an opt-out choice is not a solution to our concerns. While this might be attempted to appease current students, we are not willing to sacrifice future students by leaving them to deal with costs far in excess of the MIT norm. Moreover, a grandfathered version of the HDAG plan does not satisfy our concerns about the effect on our dorm culture or on our clubs and FSILGs; it still promotes wealth-segregated dorms; and it is fundamentally at odds with the philosophy that students live where they find the best cultural fit.

Rather, we demand the following:

  • That the dining plan be revised to make the a meal plan either non-compulsory or significantly reduced in its level of mandatory cost.
  • That the new plan be reviewed to ensure that the drastic effects on dorms, clubs, and other parts of Institute life cited here are avoided.
  • That the undergraduate student body be presented with the revised plan and asked the only question that truly measures student support: 'Do you approve of the final plan we have proposed?'

Respectfully submitted,
(135921 MIT community members - click to view names and individual comments)

Sign the petition

N.B.: If you need to change your responses or comments, you may re-submit this form and your earlier signature will be removed in favor of the new one.


I am an MIT student and wish to sign with my MIT certificate (this will reload the page to pull your certificate)   Other:   Other: Please add personal comments or thoughts. This is an important way of showing that you feel strongly about the issue.