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Stu­dents need to have the option to opt out of the meal plan | Wiki­media

In S.M. Chavey’s article last week defending Bon Appetit and the mandatory meal plan policy, she claims the meal plan requirement is “nec­essary from a financial stand­point” and that it is “an integral part of campus culture.”

I’d like to address her claims in turn. Her first claim, that mandatory meal plans are nec­essary for financial pur­poses, is suspect. Dr. Arnn, in the April 17, 2014 edition of the Col­legian, is quoted as saying “The dining service is not a major source of net revenue to the college,” directly refuting the argument of its financial necessity.

According to data released by the Council for Aid in Edu­cation, Hillsdale College is one of two col­leges nationwide to raise more money in dona­tions than it spends. Hillsdale reg­u­larly runs multi-million dollar budget sur­pluses, including the $5.3 million  surplus this year reported by the Col­legian earlier in Sep­tember. It is doubtful that relaxing the mandatory meal plan restriction would lead to the college’s financial ruin.

Moreover, as Chavey notes, approx­i­mately 10 percent of stu­dents are not required to be on a meal plan, based on such arbi­trary stan­dards as “fifth year seniors, married stu­dents, com­muting stu­dents, stu­dents 24 years or older,” and others. Hillsdale College manages to keep running despite missing out on their meal plan revenue. Why not relax the requirement further?

To start, stu­dents who live off campus are more than capable of feeding them­selves at a dra­mat­i­cally lower cost than through a college meal plan. If they decide an expensive meal plan is worth it to them, so be it. What’s the harm in giving stu­dents the option?

Her second argument, that mandatory meal plans are integral to “campus culture” and “com­munity,” is equally suspect. To start, recall the 10 percent of stu­dents exempt from mandatory meal plans. Is com­munity less integral to their college expe­rience? Is it pos­sible that stu­dents are capable of building a com­munity without expensive, over­priced, mandatory meal plans?

Of course it is. Com­munity is the result of the innu­merable spon­ta­neous inter­ac­tions between stu­dents and faculty alike every day. Whether it’s arguing over pol­itics in the union, getting into shenanigans in the dorms, attending one of the hun­dreds of events orga­nized by student groups throughout the year, or even just talking before class, com­munity would thrive even without a mandatory meal plan.

While Chavey did acknowledge that stu­dents are unhappy, she simply urged them to “stop the com­plaining,” rather than encour­aging a dia­logue between dis­sat­isfied stu­dents, Bon Appetit, and the college admin­is­tration.  Hillsdale College stu­dents are smart enough to realize when they’re getting a raw deal. Com­plaints about Bon Appetit regarding the quality of food, the price, or the man­dated meal plans, are valid. Without com­plaints, there would be no improvement. If dis­sat­isfied stu­dents hadn’t spoken out about Saga years ago, Bon Appetit likely wouldn’t be here today. These com­plaints should be addressed, not shoved beneath a rug under the guise of “com­munity.”
Groe­nendal is a senior studying eco­nomics and math