Director of Dining Services Cam Schauf presented three different proposals for meal plans for the 2013-14 academic year at the Students’ Association Senate meeting on Monday, Oct. 22. The proposals ranged from a slight variation of the current plans to a hybridization of the club and Unlimited plans to an entirely Declining system.
Before presenting the three options, Schauf stressed that the presentation was merely the first step in what will be a series of public forums — all of the options will undergo revisions before a concrete decision is made.
“I’m not here to sell anything tonight,” he said. “There’s not one option up here that is my choice.”
Schauf explained that Dining Services spent years adjusting the club plans after extensive feedback that students disliked them and said that,
while Dining had been asked about all Declining plans in the past, UR made the decision not to go down that route when meal plans underwent significant change prior to the 2011-12 academic year when Unlimited Plans replaced the old club system.
Schauf gave an overview of Dining Services’ current finances, showing with a pie chart that 78 percent of total money is spent on a combination of food and labor. While labor is more of a fixed cost, food is the “biggest variable category” and the place with the largest potential to cut costs, he said.
In the current system, Unlimited plans cover the largest percent of overhead costs. If UR were to start an all Declining system with the kind of Declining that currently exists, there would not be enough money to cover such costs as maintenance and general upkeep, Schauf said. The majority of other universities comparable to UR have a system similar to the club system, he said, noting that Duke University had an all-Declining plan in the past but abandoned this system, creating a separate plan for freshmen. Washington University in St. Louis has an all-Declining plan, but charges the overhead up front, Schauf said.
“We hear from students that too much of the overhead burden is carried by the Unlimited Plans,” Schauf explained. He also noted that students often complain that the Unlimited plans are too restrictive. Upperclassmen living in underclassmen housing, such as D’Lions, also frequently complain that they feel like they are being treated like freshmen, he said.
The first option, based on this feedback presented on Monday and the logic used by Washington University in St. Louis, would be largely similar to the current system, but have more flexibility, especially for upperclassmen living on the Residential Quad. Group one of the current meal plan, which includes the Res Quad, the Susan B. Anthony Residence Halls, Fairchild, Kendrick, Munro and Slater houses, Psi U and O’Brien Hall, would be split into two groups, the first encompassing Gilbert, Hoeing, Tiernan and Lovejoy Halls and Sue B. and the second including Burton and Crosby Halls, Fairchild, Kendrick, Munro, Slater, Psi U and O’Brien. However, with this new plan, the overhead would be spread out over the different Declining options, meaning that the cost for the Diamond Declining plan would be $2,261 per semester, but would give students $1,675 Declining to spend. The Platinum Declining plan would cost $1,889 per semester and students would get $1,400 to spend, while the Silver Declining plan would cost $915 and students would get $678 to spend.
Additional Declining added throughout the semester would be added dollar for dollar, Schauf said.
“This plan increases the flexibility for the people in the new group too and spreads the overhead over all the plans to a higher degree than the current plans do,” Schauf said of the first option. “It gives the stability to keep all operations open.”
The second option would leave the groupings the same as in option one, but introduces two additional plans called the 150 Meal Plan and the 125 Meal Plan. These would not be analogous to club plans because meals would still have to be eaten in Douglass Dining Center, Danforth Dining Hall and the Eastman Dining Center. The 150 Meal Plan, however, would cost $2,468 per semester and give students 150 swipes with $850 Declining. The 125 Meal Plan would cost $2,261 and also come with $850 in Declining.
“It takes what Unlimited did and gives it some definition,” Schauf said of option two.
Following this explanation, a student asked if UR has the infrastructure in place to accommodate a change to having an increase in students on Declining, given how crowded areas such as Starbucks and Hillside Market are currently. Schauf responded that Starbucks might not necessarily have the infrastructure, but that UR is looking at re-modeling Starbucks, potentially as soon as this summer.
In option three — an all Declining system that differs the most radically from current options and from the other two options — the overhead costs were taken away from meal plans and put into a single University fee.
Schauf stated that although he is not against an all Declining system, it is “not his favorite option” given the blanket fee, which would be around $850 per year for undergraduates if commuters were also made to pay it and around $1,100 per year if commuters were exempt.
“Based on the kinds of conversations with students and parents that I’ve had, I can’t see that a fee of this size would be something that would sell,” Schauf said. “We’ve had so many years where you’ve had some ability to lower the amount you’re paying by where you live or by class year. One size fits all just doesn’t feel right to me.”
Requirements for commuters would be lowered with option three, as Dining wanted to lower costs for these students given that they do not live on campus.
With option three, Diamond Declining would cost $1,925 per semester and students would get this entire amount to spend, Platinum Declining would cost $1,605, Gold Declining would cost $1,345, Silver Declining would cost $775, Bronze Declining would cost $535 and Commuter Declining would cost $250.
An SA senator brought up the idea of including items like coffee and fruit in an Unlimited plan to make it more attractive to people, stating that perhaps these specific items would be purchased with an Unlimited swipe in certain packages — such as a coffee and a bagel, for example.
Schauf stated that Dining has not looked at this idea directly and expressed the fact that this might be difficult because Dining would have to determine a way to count these items.
Following Schauf’s presentation, the senators gave their opinions on the options. A majority were in favor of option two, citing what they saw as its increased flexibility.
Former SA President, Senator-at-Large and KEY Scholar Bradley Halpern noted that he “could see most options working,” but said that he liked option one and that he liked the Unlimited plan, but ideally it would not be required. He also noted that Dining should look into removing The Meliora from meal plans if it is increasing overhead costs. Halpern also noted that in option two, the 150 and 125 plans seemed “like going back to something worse than clubs.”
Other senators proposed looking at the necessity of having Hillside open 24 hours a day and otherwise assessing the efficiency of campus dining locations in an effort to reduce overhead costs. They also justified their support for option two by saying that students might be more likely to complain about an all-Declining plan if they think they are not getting their money’s worth because of the blanket fee. It will also provide somewhat of a meal schedule for students to stick with to avoid running out of Declining early on in the semester, various senators said.
Schauf will present a revised version of the three options based on feedback from Monday’s Senate at a Dining Committee meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 30.
Buletti is a member of the class of 2013.