by Rima Thompson
One of the hottest topics discussed in the dorms and commuter lounges of the University of Verne is the imposition of mandatory meal plans.
Although current residents may view this mandate as an intrusion to their right to eat on or off campus, historically, meal plans have been a tradition for many universities across the United States.
“In the early days (universities) actually had kitchens and dorm mothers that would prepare the meals for the residents,” said Loretta Rahmani, dean of student affairs.
In keeping with this tradition, ULV offers on-campus residents several meal plan choices. Residents can choose from a 12meal plan with a $100 declining balance, a 14-meal plan with a $75 declining balance and a Gold-meal plan with a $50 declining balance.
The meal plans cover the food purchased at Davenport and certain items at Salsa Rico in The Spot. The declining balance dollars can be used to purchase all other food items at The Spot Restaurants, Salsa Rico and Jazzman’s Café, or the Book ‘n’ Bean in the bookstore.
Rahmani said the reason they offer a variety of meal plans and declining balances is because the University wanted to give students options.
However, students are asking officials for more options.
“More and more people are asking about having a 10-meal plan for resident hall students, and we (school officials) are thinking of offering that, but there are no guarantees,” Rahmani said.
Currently only residents in the Sheraton Hotel have the 10-meal plan option, while off-campus students can voluntarily purchase a meal plan or cash cards.
Unfortunately, not liking the food at Davenport or wanting to save money are not valid reasons for getting rid of a meal plan according to school officials.
Students who cannot eat the food that is prepared at Davenport because of health issues must provide a doctor’s note and a copy of the prescribed diet.
The copy of the diet will then be taken to the general food manager, Aaron Neilson, to see if special accommodations can be made to suit the required diet.
In Rahmani’s 13 years of working at the University, there have only been four exceptions to the meal plans, she said.
“Usually the food service can match almost any dietary restrictions,” Rahmani said.
Neilson added that they bring in a nutritionist to help develop a plan for the student.
“We’ll sit down with the student personally, and see what we can come up with to help them,” said Neilson.
Not allowing residents to cook in their dorm rooms is a health and safety issue; resident hall occupants are not allowed to use microwaves, hot plates or any other cooking equipment in their rooms.
“You can’t have over 100 residents cooking each day and storing food. That would be over-using the kitchen facilities, and the electrical jacks in the rooms aren’t wired to handle equipment like microwaves or hot plates,” Rahmani said.
Additionally, the plumbing fixtures in the halls are not made to handle food thrown down the drain by residents. The University is also concerned about residents getting a well-balanced diet.
“People think they can eat well balanced meals, but when they are on their own and going for cheap, they can’t. This is another reason why we have meal plans,” Rahmani said
The benefit of living in a resident hall is that “you have convenience, efficiency and nutritional support,” Rahmani said.
While students have accepted the meal plan mandates, as well as the fact that exceptions to meal plans are rarely given, they question why they cannot get money back from any unused meals.
“I think it’s ridiculous. We should be charged on an individual basis for the actual meals we eat, not on what the average person of a specific meal plan eats,” said sophomore Mary Kazichain.
The University gives an answer that is quite simple.
What most people do not know is that the pricing for meal plans are based on a missed meal factor. That is, the vendor knows how many meals will be eaten out of the number of meals a student chooses.
For example, the 12-meal plan is the most frequently used plan. Based on research done by the food vendor, it is estimated that out of 12 meals, a student might miss four. The student is then only being charged for eight meals.
“The prices for meal plans would be much higher if students were charged for every meal in their plan,” Rahmani said.
After 14 years of using Aramark as its main food vendor supplier, the University looked at bids from four other food providers.
Each vendor had to show what types of meals they would offer as well as address any health and safety issues.Students and faculty took part in the selection process. Bidders were required to host two catering events so the University could see their hosting abilities. Surprise visits were made to the accounts of the vendors to see how they functioned on a daily basis.
The vendors were given a month to collect data on ULV. Some chose to do student focus groups while others did surveys to collect their data. The University eventually chose to go with Sodexho.
Overall, the changes have been meet with various reactions.
“I think (The Spot) should include food from other cultures as well,” said sophomore Sara Lesniak. “They used to have snacks in there for a quick bite, and I’d like to see that in there again.”
Junior Eric Thomas disagreed, “I don’t think the lack of variety is a problem. The food being overpriced is what concerns me.”
Rahmani said the cost to renovate Davenport and The Spot was $500,000 total.
There was supposed to be a charbroiled grill in The Spot, but during the renovation, it was discovered that the roof in The Spot was not compliant with the specifications needed for the grill. To fix the problem it would have cost the school an additional $500,000.
“We are working on how we can get variety in The Spot, because we know that is an issue, “said Rahmani.