DePauw’s campus meal plan evolving—students voice concerns

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On March 20th, Associate Vice President for Finance, Kevin Kessinger, announced via email to DePauw University students that a new meal plan will be put in place starting this fall for the 2015-2016 school year. This new system would replace the current declining balance system.

The new system is a swipe system that offers several different options depending on housing, and allows students around 14 swipes per week, with some “DPU flex dollars” to spend at other campus restaurants like the Fluttering Duck or 2 West.

After much backlash and disapproval from the student body including emails to Kessinger and an online petition that students signed to reject the new meal plan, DePauw administration came up with several changes to better suit students’ wants and needs.

Some changes that Kessinger announced via email to students on April 15th include meal swipes alternatives at the Den, Hub Express, Café Roy, Café Allegro and Blend to include more variety and healthy options, the option for more sides instead of just an entrée and two sides, a late night swipe period and five guest swipes per semester.

DePauw Student Government Vice President of Academic Affairs, Katharine Kondry, is mainly upset at the way in which the university administration went about making the meal plan changes.

“I am most disappointed in the administration's lack of transparency in communicating these changes,” Kondry said. “Current students were emailed about these changes after we chose our housing. In order to preserve the trusting relationship between students and the administration, I would really encourage Kevin [Kessinger] and Jason [Rose] to allow current students to stay under the old system for another year.”

Regardless of the new changes, many students still see more benefit to the current system.

“I am generally opposed to the new meal plan,” Kondry said. “While I understand that the intent of the new meal plan is to both prevent students from running out of money before the semester's end, and to provide students with more meals per week, there are major drawbacks. Whereas students can currently spend their semester's worth of money at any point in the semester and at numerous locations—such as the Hub, Den, Cafes, Duck and Two West—students will now be limited to eating almost all of their meals at the Hub, Den or Cafes.”

Many students agree that our current meal plan helps students develop frugality and budgeting.

“Personally I think that we are all adults here, everyone here is 18 and over, so we should be able to have our money and spend it how we want to spend it,” first-year student Zoe Collis said. “I think that the system that we have now is fine, I think that [the new meal plan] is a good proposal initially to try and help students balance how they spend their money and what to spend their money on; however, I think we are all adults and we are able to spend our money [how we want]. The system has been in place for awhile now, I don’t really think we need a big change.”

Kessinger addressed this issue in his April 15th email, citing statistics about DePauw’s student populations spending habits.

“As of April 1 last year (with 45 days left in the semester), 25% of students on the Residence Hall Meal Plan were below their suggested balance, with 22 students having a balance of $10 or less,” Kessinger wrote. “At this same point in time, 40% of students on the Rector Village meal plan were below their suggested balance. While learning to manage to a budget is an important learning experience, we are uncomfortable continuing to structure a plan that results in many students prematurely exhausting their meal plan balance.”

Other first-year students agree that our current meal plan is working fine the way it is, and further assert that learning budgeting through the meal plan is crucial learning experience in college.

“I prefer the system we have now because I have extra money now, so I’m buying stuff for people on my floor who need it,” first-year student Kaitlyn Groce said. “I think it’s more about people being conscious about what they’re buying; it’s a good life lesson. If you can’t take care of yourself now then you need to make changes to figure out how to take care of yourself. With the new meal plan, obviously there are pros to it, and cons to it too, but I think we need to keep in mind more the long term effects of how this could help or [hurt students] later outside of college.”

Another concern regarding the new meal plan is that it favors students who eat three big meals a day, rather than students who prefer to eat several smaller meals throughout the day.

“Honestly, I would love to see a return to the a-la-carte system that was set-up under Sodexo [DePauw’s previous food service provider],” Kondry said. “The a-la-carte model is friendlier to those who want to eat healthy. The current ‘all-you-care-to-eat’ system really favors those who are going to eat a few big meals a day as opposed to more frequent, smaller meals, which have been proven to be better for you.”

Kondry asserts that this issue is bigger than food, and more about the amount of power that students have over decisions that administration makes that affect us.

“I think students are now worried about the monopolization of food on our campus,” she said. “While a small campus, we should encourage a free market where supply and demand dictates whether or not our food supplier stays or goes...Given the number of students who have signed an online petition, I think it would be safe to say that those not living in Greek Chapters for the upcoming year are frustrated and feel marginalized by this recent power-play.”

To further discuss the new meal plan, and address these issues and others, students are encouraged by administration to attend the two open forums this week on April 21st and April 24th from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the SGA student space in the lower level of the UB. For more information regarding the new meal plan proposal visit DePauw.edu/studentlife/campusliving/diningoptions/2015-16-meal-plans/.