By Megan Zahneis, News Editor
An Associated Student Government-sponsored online petition protesting a new meal plan policy, to be implemented for fall 2016, has garnered 2,700 signatures since going live Monday afternoon.
In January, university administration announced an overhauled meal plan system, which will affect current and incoming first-year students. Housing Options, Meals and Events (H.O.M.E.) office director Brian Woodruff said the changes were spurred by several years of feedback from students and parents, specifically pertaining to the Diplomat plan, which institutes a $1,625 program assessment fee that must be paid by all students living on campus.
The new plan will allow students to purchase a set number of buffet meals, called “swipes,” used at locations such as Western Dining Commons, coupled with a declining balance to be used at a la carte locations such as Maplestreet Station, each semester.
Currently, students pay the upfront $1,625 fee and can choose between three price points to be used as declining balance for both buffet and a la carte options. A discount for students — a 30 percent markdown at a la carte locations and a 50 percent payment at buffet locations — was used to compensate for the program assessment fee and will be revoked under the new plan.
“We heard loud and clear, ‘Get rid of the fee. Restructure it so we don’t have this base fee that we’re paying,’” Woodruff said. “As our team went together in the fall, [we] essentially landed at pretty much where we are now with the options of buffet meal combined with the declining balance.”
Woodruff, interim director of dining services Jon Brubacher and associate vice president of auxiliary services Kim Kinsel met in the fall with ASG secretary for on-campus affairs Sammi Podolyan and other ASG and Residence Hall Association executives to solicit input on a revamped meal plan.
Podolyan, a sophomore, said transparency and flexibility were two key changes ASG requested.
“You’d ask, ‘Where exactly is this money going to? What percentage of it goes toward what aspect of dining?’, and
they wouldn’t be able to tell you,” Podolyan explained. “We definitely harped on how important flexibility was to students because we are very busy.”
Podolyan, however, said that the idea of separating buffet swipes and a la carte costs, a key component of the new plan, came as a surprise to ASG representatives.
“We hadn’t even heard much talk about buffet swipes until January, when Brian Woodruff presented his plan,” Podolyan said. “Once I got a hold of it, it was already implemented on the H.O.M.E. office webpage, and students were already signing up.”
Because the new meal plan was rolled out over winter term, Podolyan added, she and her fellow ASG representatives felt their voices weren’t being heard.
“They didn’t have time to get feedback from us,” she said. “Didn’t send emails, didn’t reach out to us. We felt our opinion wasn’t heard and that was a big problem for us.”
Brubacher said that his staff will meet with members of ASG again next week and is eager to get their input.
“We really do. We continue conversations,” Brubacher said. “It’s not like we’re turning a blind eye to any of these comments. We really are taking everything into conversation. We’re always soliciting [feedback].”
He added that transparency — everyone paying the same price for a certain item and knowing exactly where their money is going — would be a major facet of the new plan.
“That will be one of the big benefits, one of several, having that transparency,” Brubacher said. “The posted price will be what I pay if I come in and I’m not on a meal plan, what you pay if you’re on the top tier declining dollar balance. It’s the same if somebody comes in with a credit card.”
After hearing of the meal plan revision, ASG passed a resolution on March 1 stating its opposition to the new policy and, after being told that the plans were “set in stone” for the fall, issued the online petition Monday afternoon.
Penned by Podolyan and senators Lucas Elfreich (College of Arts and Science) and Trent White (Education, Health and Society), the petition has circulated widely among Miami students, parents and faculty.
“The new plan is not conducive to the often busy daily life of a Miami University student,” the petition reads, in part. “The convenience of a la carte locations allow for students to purchase and eat food quickly and efficiently, while buffet locations are more suitable for longer and more relaxed meals. Buffet locations are located on the outskirts of campus and cannot be utilized if students only have 10 or 15 minutes between classes, as most do.
“Students love the flexibility that our current plan offers and have felt like this new plan is a step backwards. While we appreciate the work the administration has put into creating this plan, we believe the current proposed meal plan is not in the best interests of students and needs additional improvements.”
“They were listening to our feedback, or we thought they were,” Podolyan said, “but it’s just not represented in this plan.”
Petition co-author White added that the miscommunication extended further.
“[The administration] specifically said they [issued the plan] with the support of ASG and other organizations [when we hadn’t seen the plan],” White said.
Both parties expressed a desire to work together.“Along the way, there [were] differences in opinion on how exactly to fix [the meal plan], and that’s where we end up today. [The administration] abandoned the cooperative approach,” Elfreich said. “We started together, and I would like to end together, but right now that’s not exactly what’s happening.”
Comments from petition signers:
Paul DeMarco, parent: I question whether proper research was carried out to assess the true meal behavior of students, or if the actual intent was to create a meal plan knowing that many student will be left with be unused swipes, therefore guaranteeing additional revenue to the university. More transparency about the actual meal plan costs should have been communicated to students if the unused swipes are subsidizing the cost to provide meals to the student body.
Cyndi Richards, parent: This change truly represents poor planning on the part of Administration and seems to bolster their trend of maximizing dollars at every opportunity.
Kendra Stevenson, senior: While I do not agree with the current pricing structure of MU dining (most, if not all, of the dining facilities are above market price) the new plan does not appear better. The unfortunate and slightly deceptive pricing of a la carte locations is unlikely to change under the new plan, while the freedom to choose where to eat will be taken away. Change is welcome, but not in this iteration.