Starting with the Class of 2015, all students living on campus will be required to purchase a meal plan in an attempt to raise revenue for Dining Services. The Student Assembly is in the middle of an attempt to publicize this policy, which was put into place at the end of last year and will go into effect at the beginning of next semester. While I’m sure everyone in our community is sympathetic to the budget problems faced by the administration, this is not the right way to go about trying to solve these issues. The restrictive nature of this measure is likely to alienate students further and may end up being counterproductive to the goals of Dining Services and of the administration.
You may expect this sort of policy from an institution that had built up good credit with students with regard to on-campus dining. For example, Virginia Tech has the same requirement the College of William and Mary is about to impose; the difference is that their campus food is consistently ranked among the best in the country. The College’s, to put it very kindly, isn’t. The nicest word that gets used to describe our food is “tolerable.” For what they get, a lot of students aren’t particularly thrilled about paying upward of $3,500 a year for their meals. If most students wouldn’t pay $10 for what’s on their plates anywhere else, why would they want to do it at the Commons Dining Hall?
That’s not to suggest that on-campus dining is obsolete. For many students, it’s easier than buying groceries and healthier than a constant rotation between Domino’s, Chick-Fil-A and vending machines. Moreover, the College’s dining locations are important social hubs. Many students, however, don’t want to put up with subpar food at that price and drop the meal plan the second they can. Most students, at the very least, seemed to be content with having that choice, but the College has ripped it away from them unreasonably.
The dining system, which was already hanging by a finger due to unreasonable restrictions on swipe usage and refusal to roll over unused swipes to the next semester, is in danger of falling off a cliff. By forcing students to buy meal plans, the College does a disservice to the local businesses whose food the students seem to prefer. Every meal a student is forced to eat on campus is one they don’t eat at the Green Leafe Cafe. Students are going to keep their money in Williamsburg regardless, and it’s not good for any of us if the local restaurants where we like to eat are affected adversely because many students can’t afford them anymore.
The College is liable to drive many of its students off campus. If the new restriction isn’t a deal-breaker, which it would be for me, it will at least be a major factor in the decisions of many students. It’s not implausible that the school could cost itself more money in housing than it makes in meal plans.
Such a plan reflects exceptionally poorly on the quality of the College. It’s very easy for prospective students to find out very detailed information on schools, including quality of food. The Internet Age means that universities have to be more careful about what their students think than ever before, and that sticking up a big middle finger at your student body isn’t going to fly anymore.
The College doesn’t help anyone by acting like a bully and attempting to monopolize more facets of student life. It shouldn’t be in the business of telling students, particularly returning students, how to live their lives. Students consistently say that one of the most important aspects of campus dining is having options, but instead of taking concrete steps to make on-campus food more desirable in the first place, the College is going to try and simply squeeze more money out of its students. The College may not like the results.