Following the introduction of unlimited meal plans at the start of the 2011-12 academic year, multiple complaints surfaced regarding the new system. During the spring semester of that year, discussions began about potential changes, which will be announced later this semester and take effect at the beginning of the 2013-14 academic year.
A new topic of concern has emerged this semester though, centered more specifically on the meal plan appeal process.
Students’ Association Dining Coordinator and senior Shiv Rambarran explained that the most immediate problems with the current system are transparency and communication. He believes students should know they have the ability to appeal their current meal plan and that there are clear criteria about what are appropriate reasons to file an appeal. Changes to the structure of the appeals process itself are also being discussed, but Rambarran said that it is difficult to know exactly what form these adjustments will take before changes to the meal plans themselves have been settled.
“I can say that my objective is not to have an [appeals] process that can make appealing easier, but to have meal plans that students are less likely to want to appeal in the first place,” he said, adding that he is aiming for “proactive measures, not retroactive solutions.”
Rambarran acknowledged that the requirements for an appeal are already clearly laid out in students’ housing contacts, but the problem, he believes, lies with the fact that the information needs to be communicated more effectively by UR Dining Services. But, he added, students also need to take responsibility to read their contracts carefully so they understand the terms and conditions before they sign them.
“It really does go both ways,” he said.
According to Director of Dining Services Cam Schauf, students can find appeal forms both online and in the ID Office in the Susan B. Anthony Residence Halls. Once submitted, the appeals are reviewed with input from relevant offices, such as University Health Services for medical-related appeals and the Office of Financial Aid for monetary ones.
Schauf explained that if it becomes clear that the student cannot get good value out of the meal plan for a legitimate reason, Dining will work to create an equivalent plan that will better fit the student. He added, though, that there are limited cases in which a financial commitment will be reduced.
Does Schauf believe this process is effective?
“That’s left to be seen,” he said. “There’s nothing that we do that can’t be made better.”
Schauf also noted that during the year UR made the switch to unlimited meal plans, increased leniency was accorded to appeals to account for students who might not have fully understood the new plans before they signed up for them.
“We agreed to be more lenient in that very first year as people got an understanding of what [was] going on,” he said.
Now that the new system has been in effect for a full year, that leniency has been lifted.
“We became as strict as we had been in the past,” Schauf explained.
When senior Kirsten Williamson was diagnosed with gluten intolerance halfway through her sophomore year, she found she did not have enough meal options on campus using the meal plan she had at the time, which included clubs and declining. When the meal plan system changed the next year, she tried to use an unlimited plan, but discovered that she still could not find enough to eat being restricted in the amount of declining she could use. Not only were there not enough consistent options, but she had to worry about cross-contamination as well.
“It was really difficult for me to find food that fit my dietary needs,” she said.
Williamson decided to go through the appeals process in order to get an all-declining meal plan. She explained that there’s a lot of paper involved and that she had to make a calendar detailing all of the meals she would conceivably eat in a given week, a process that she agrees was complicated.
“I think there’re a lot of hoops to jump through,” she noted.
Despite these complications, Williamson was pleased that it didn’t take very long for her to hear back about a decision.
Senior David Heid had a difficult time getting to dining halls that would accept his unlimited plan in the fall semester of the 2011-12 academic year because he ate lunch every day at the Eastman School of Music, where he could only use declining. He explained that the appeals process was difficult because there were so many steps involved.
“It should be simple enough … that you should be able to switch more easily,” he said, adding that students should also have a legitimate reason they are appealing their meal plan.
Schauf though, acknowledged that there will always be dissent.
“It’s not easy, you have to work at it. That’s what an appeal’s all about,” he explained.
According to Rambarran, a number of students have expressed complaints about the appeals system. He believes that the appeals process may have been inefficient all along, but students are only realizing it now because there’s so much dissent with the meals plans themselves.
Rambarran, who is working with Schauf, other representatives from UR Dining and SA Projects and Services Co-Chairs senior Sonja Page and sophomore Humma Sheikh to improve the meals plan and the appeals process, explained that students should expect to see guidelines for appeals listed on UR Dining’s website by October and that any more substantial changes will occur at the start of the 2013-14.
Goldin is a member of the class of 2013.