VERBUM ULTIMUM: We Don’t Buy It
By The Dartmouth Editorial Board
Published on Friday, March 4, 2011
Campus dialogue this Winter has centered on particularly heavy issues, from the intractable problems of sexual assault and binge drinking to rising concern about the administration’s approach to diversity. As the term draws to a close, however, we find ourselves alarmed about one of those “little things” — an issue that might seem insignificant in a broader context, but that has an undeniably meaningful impact on our daily lives. Sometimes it is the little things that count, and in the case of the administration’s proposed changes to our dining plan options, they count a whole lot. The new plan announced this week will trade our popular a la carte system for a hybrid system of paying for all-you-can-eat meals in the Class of 1953 Commons and buying individual items in other dining halls (“New plan to include pay-per-meal dining,” March 2).
The new plan may be well-intentioned — Director of Dining Services David Newlove expressed the hope that the new system would prevent students on financial aid from going negative on DBA early in the term — but it is ultimately misguided and mismatched with most students’ preferences.
Pay-for-meal systems are infamous for encouraging food waste and inhibiting flexibility. The ability to swipe a card once and take as much food as you’d like provides incentive for students to take more food than they can eat, and eat more food than they need. Why not sample three different desserts when you can take three for the price of one? In contrast, a system of paying for individual items requires students to make thoughtful food choices, while also offering more freedom to eat smaller meals and snack throughout the day. Many Dartmouth students have erratic eating schedules that include hasty in-between-class fruit cups, mid-afternoon sushi and late-night mozzarella sticks interspersed among small meals. A pay-by-meal plan does not accommodate their needs.
The hybrid aspect of the plan admittedly allows for some degree of freedom — Collis, Novack and the Hop will still be open for quick snacks, drinks and small meals. But this freedom is an upperclassman-only privilege. Freshmen will be required to pay for 20 meals a week, at a cost of $1,658 — an increase of more than $200 from the plan they are currently required to purchase. If they don’t want their dining funds to go to waste, freshmen will be limited to eating all but one meal per week in ’53 Commons. Segregating future freshman classes to a single dining hall is not only unfair, but also threatens to exacerbate the current lack of social interaction between freshmen and upperclassmen.
All classes will suffer from the social implications of the all-you-can-eat meal option, which prevents students who are not purchasing a meal from entering the dining hall’s seating area. Upperclassmen who opt to pay for only five meals per week, the smallest meal option, will largely become strangers to Food Court and Home Plate. The common practice of sitting and socializing with friends who have already eaten or aren’t hungry will be impossible in ’53 Commons under the new system. These detrimental social effects are ironic given that the renovations to ’53 Commons have been marketed as a way to increase the number of non-Greek social spaces on campus.
If, as Newlove suggests, the College wants to help students save money, it should work to lower the costs of outrageously priced DDS food. Drastically changing our unique a la carte plan is a poor fix for a system that isn’t broken.