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