Administration addresses student dining concerns
Published: Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 31, 2012 04:10
On Monday, Oct. 22, Assistant Vice President for Administration Bob Bossange, Resident Director Julie Jordan and Director of Housing and Campus Life Kris Niendorf met with the Budgetary Advisory Committee (BAC), which is comprised of students, staff and faculty members, to present the reasons behind the overall cost of the Wellesley meal plan and alternate findings regarding the cost per meal.
Depending on the number of meals consumed per day, the average cost of a meal at Wellesley could range from $7.32 to $8.37 per meal, according to Bossange, who noted students eat between 3.5 to four meals per day on average. The number of days the students use the dining halls per year could range from 219—all the days the dining halls are open excluding orientation and commencement—to 244, which would include meals provided during orientation for first-years, pre-orientation training for student leaders and commencement.
He pointed to labor and maintenance costs as factors in the overall cost of the meal plan, as well as the number of dining options on campus and continuous dining which is available at very few peer institutions across the country.
The BAC is calling for a full report into the costs associated with the Wellesley meal plan. The committee also conducted an online student poll via GoogleDocs which revealed general dissatisfaction with the meal plan, and the students’ desire to gain more information about what factors determine the cost.
“I’m very pleased with the response turn out of the survey given our limited reach,” said Camila Diaz ’15, a member of BAC. “I saw that many of the students were unhappy with the quality of the meals we were being served considering the amount of money we were paying per meal.”
When calculating the cost per meal, Bossange, Jordan and Niendorf estimated that students eat 3.5 meals a day. However, according to the BAC student poll, many students do not feel that they eat 3.5 meals a day. Students who skip breakfast or eat a light breakfast, such as a piece of fruit or a bowl of cereal, do not count their breakfast as a full meal. According to a survey conducted by the Wellesley News, students estimate that they eat approximately 2.78 meals per day on weekdays and 2.27 meals on the weekends. Most students consider a full meal to be between one and 1.5 plates of food. Using the estimations from the student poll, the cost per meal could range from $10.00 to $11.14.
Additionally, the meal plan includes $100 in Flex dollars and a 16-guest meal pass, as well as one meal per day at MIT, Babson or Olin for students who are cross-registered. When students eat at the college at which they are cross-registering, Wellesley reimburses the college for the meal.
Joy Das ’13, Student Bursar and member of the BAC, questioned the necessity of the benefits, but believed that a more comprehensive reform would be needed in order to reduce the cost of the meal plan.
“I wouldn’t say these benefits are necessary, because I don’t think all students take advantage of all of them,” Das said. “I’m not convinced, however, that altering these aspects to reduce the price of the meal plan would reduce the cost for the student.”
The cost of the meal plan is in part determined by maintenance and capital costs, such as utilities, tables, chairs and dishes, including between $45,000 and $50,000 spent to replace cutlery and dishes that are taken from the dining halls each year, according to the Office of Sustainability.
According to Milldrum, a swipe system would discourage students from taking dishes out of the dining halls and into their dorm rooms. Instead, the BAC is looking into offering a college-sanctioned, reusable container to take out extra food. This idea was obtained by observing the same system at Northeastern University. Students would be allowed to eat in the dining hall and take extra food that will fit in the container. BAC hopes that this would provide an alternative to taking dishes out of the dining hall and would also be a sustainable option.
However, the consequences of having reusable containers could still perpetuate dish issues, dubbed “dishues.”
“Many people already have tupperware, and [the reusable dishes] could be really easy to lose,” Ashley Kunk ’16 said.
Washing and maintaining the reusable dishes could also cause problems.
“The reusable dishes could create issues in the kitchenettes,” Donlan said.
Much of the high cost of the meal plan can be attributed to labor costs. According to Bossange, there are 102 staff members, many of whom are trained as chefs and bakers.
“To maintain our high standards, we hire the best people, and we compensate them for that,” Jordan said.
“It’s completely understandable, in my opinion, that one of the consequences of having ‘continuous dining’ is having incredibly high capital costs and labor costs,” Diaz said. “We also have to take into consideration that much more goes into having [the dining halls] open for 12 to 15 hours a day other than having kitchen staff cooking or cleaning. There is a long list of expenses, with everything from contracts to the supplies that are being used.”