‘Saga’ Steve Casai swipes a stu­dent’s ID card in the Knorr Family Dining Room (Anders Kiledal | Col­legian)


Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas described the college as “a trustee of the her­itage that finds its clearest expression in the American exper­iment of self-gov­ernment under law” at Hillsdale College’s 146th com­mencement speech in 2016. This reflects the college’s mission statement “to develop the minds and improve the hearts of stu­dents” and to prepare stu­dents to meet the chal­lenges of modern life.

Hillsdale College’s meal plan policy under­mines the mission statement and self-gov­ernment by pre­venting stu­dents from learning valuable life skills. There is no question under­classmen rely on the meal plan to balance their diet of ramen and coffee, but forcing upper­classmen who live off campus to pur­chase an expensive, unsuitable meal plans is coun­ter­pro­ductive.

Hillsdale offers six meal plans, four of which are available to those living in dor­mi­tories.

The cheapest meal plan, 10 meals per week, is only offered only to off-campus stu­dents and Suites res­i­dents. It costs $17.70 per meal.

There is no doubt stu­dents can feed them­selves for less — even eating every meal at Olivia’s Chop­house. Upper­classmen must pick either a few, expensive swipes, or too many, wasting hun­dreds of dollars in leftover meals come the semester’s end.

At lunch, stu­dents must squeeze around sorority, lan­guage, and admission tables in a dining hall that feels too small for the number of stu­dents. Some stu­dents with strict lunch schedules may forego the meal alto­gether.

Hillsdale should try a dif­ferent way.

In 2014, Hillsdale College’s chapter of Young Amer­icans for Freedom peti­tioned to reform meal plans to resemble those of Kala­mazoo and Adrian col­leges, two insti­tu­tions of similar size to Hillsdale. These col­leges, which only require res­i­dence hall stu­dents to have meal plans, con­tract with Sodexo, a multi­na­tional food service. Sodexo offers smaller, more flexible meal plans that inte­grate stu­dents with towns­people and include local busi­nesses.

After two days, the petition was stopped, and College Pres­ident Larry Arnn responded in a Col­legian article. 

“We take the view here that the old under­standing is the correct one; the things we do together: talking, living, eating, classes are all important,” Arnn told The Col­legian. “The dining service is not a major source of net revenue to the college. We do all in our power to make it good and to make it affordable. It matters that the stu­dents gather to dine.”

Arnn’s email implied that stu­dents would lose a sense of com­munity if Hillsdale gave stu­dents a choice in selecting meal plans.

Com­munity is unques­tionably essential to Hillsdale’s atmos­phere, reflected in long Sunday brunches and student-led dor­mitory Bible studies. But the best com­munity is vol­untary. Com­munity ceases to exist when stu­dents are forced to eat elbow-to-elbow, unable to stand without bumping another student.

Com­munity is not exclusive to the dining hall; it exists wherever people choose to gather.

One way the college could improve the meal plan while pre­serving com­munity is to let stu­dents spend their dollars at local busi­nesses or at grocery stores. Broad­ening dining options would not destroy com­munity. It could even strengthen the college’s rela­tionship with the city.

It could divert dining hall traffic, save stu­dents money and offer cooking expe­rience to prepare for when dinner means more than swiping into a cafe­teria.

Thomas likened Hillsdale College to a “shining city on a hill” for believing “liberty as an antecedent of gov­ernment, not a benefit from gov­ernment.” Hillsdale should give stu­dents the liberty to choose from more options for their meal plan to prepare them­selves for life after grad­u­ation.


Scott McClallen is a senior studying eco­nomics and jour­nalism.