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.