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Following student outcry, AU Dining leaders say meal plan price will not increase next year

Students still plan to protest Board of Trustees meeting later this month

After dozens of students attended a Residence Hall Association meeting on Monday to voice their concerns about the University’s proposed meal plans, AU Dining leaders announced Thursday that their proposed meal plan for the 2019-2020 academic year will include “no price increase.”   

Outrage over the proposed changes, which would have included an approximate $1,000 per semester price increase for sophomores, and a potential tuition increase led students to plan a town hall and protest surrounding the Board of Trustees meeting in late February. The board will ultimately approve or reject any proposals by AU Dining. 

In an email to students, Charles Smith, the executive director of Auxiliary Services, and Ann Marie Powell, the director of Dining and Auxiliary Services, wrote that in their new proposal, first-year students will be required to purchase at least a 175-meal block plan while second-year students will be required to buy a 100-meal block plan. 

“We solicited your feedback to ensure that the meal plans were aligned with student needs,” they wrote. “Much improvement is needed, and we are taking steps to ensure that the food provided to our students meets expectations for cost, quality and service.”

Both plans include $400 in EagleBucks, which can be used to purchase on-campus food from non-Aramark restaurants as well as off-campus vendors who are partnered with AU. Powell and Smith noted that these dining plans offer an increased number of EagleBucks at the current price rate. The plan also phases out Dining Dollars, which could only be spent at on-campus dining facilities run by Aramark. 

The previous plan for the 2019-2020 meal plan program would have required first- and second-year students to purchase, at minimum, the Weekly 12 plan, according to a proposal released by AU Dining. That plan gave students 12 meal swipes to use over the course of each week, as well as 300 EagleBucks to use over the course of the semester. 

“There’s no reason for freshmen to have a required meal plan that large, let alone sophomores,” said freshman Katie Meyerson in an interview prior to the Thursday announcement. “The food options on campus aren’t good enough for people to actually use all their meal swipes, especially for people with dietary restrictions.” 

These proposed changes came at the end of several months of review of AU’s dining plans. In November, the University held 10 focus groups to gather student feedback on initial proposals for the 2019-2020 meal plan. 

According to information provided by AU spokesperson Kelly Alexander, only 30 students attended these focus groups. After students became more aware of the proposed changes via social media, Powell presented the revised meal plan proposals to the Student Government Senate in a January meeting and the RHA meeting on Monday. 

Prior to the meeting, Campus Swipes, a student organization aimed to mitigate food insecurity among AU students, put out a Google Form to collect student feedback on AU Dining’s proposals. According to the group’s results, 99 percent of respondents, which numbered over 600, voted against the proposed changes to the dining program.

The RHA meeting served as a forum for students to give feedback on the proposed meal plan. Many students expressed concerns about the prices of the new meal plans, especially for second-year students, and the quality of food offered on campus.

Currently, sophomores are required to purchase a 100-meal block plan, which costs $1,588 per semester. In comparison, the new Weekly 12 requirement would have cost $2,540 per semester. 

“The vast majority of [sophomore] students are going to be paying, [that] are living on campus, an extra $2,000 next year,” said Max Robins, a freshman and SG senator, in an interview prior to the dining announcement. “[This] is absolutely ridiculous.”

In response to complaints about the food and service provided by Aramark, the University’s central food service vendor, Powell and Smith wrote that they will be reviewing their partnership with the company “to determine if a change is warranted.” 

“As the semester continues, we will report to you on the progress being made,” they wrote. 

Powell and Smith’s announcement does not increase the meal plan cost for the 2019-2020 year, although the email does not address whether the price may increase in the 2020-2021 academic year. The email also did not mention if the Weekly 12 plan or other new meal plan options will be introduced next year. 

The previous proposal included a new all-access meal plan, which gives students unlimited entry to Terrace Dining Room, 100 EagleBucks for the semester and an additional five meal swipes per week to be spent elsewhere on campus. That plan would cost students $3,050 per semester, according to the original proposal. 

“[This option] really came from athletics,” Powell said at the RHA meeting. “They want to be able to go into TDR as much as they want, as often as they want, to have access all the time without having to keep using a swipe.”

Under the current meal plan, any sophomore, junior or senior can purchase a 100-block meal plan that includes 200 EagleBucks and 200 Dining Dollars. The current 100-block plan with 200 EagleBucks and 200 Dining Dollars costs $1,588, or $11.88 per meal. 

With the additional costs, sophomore students would have had more meal swipes per semester. Yet for some students, the benefits of a larger plan were not worth the increased cost. 

“I think it speaks to the importance of affordability because the main focuses tonight were about the poor dining options and about how the increased requirements will harm affordability,” said junior Bobby Zitzmann, the chair of the SG senate finance committee, following the RHA meeting. “It shows that students are involved and hopefully that the dining office is being honest when they say that they care about student feedback.”

Powell answered students’ questions for over an hour, facing overwhelming opposition to the proposed changes. Powell said that the proposed changes were not final and the feedback received from the students would be taken into consideration. Students were skeptical that any new changes would be made.

“I don’t think anything should get passed at the meeting next week,” said freshman Mariah Freeman. “A week isn’t enough time to change the plan and have it checked with all the students.” 

Sophomore Jared Bedell, the president of RHA, said that the student turnout was unprecedented. 

“This was the most clear feedback I’ve heard as well as very pointed and direct,” Bedell said. 

Mitchell Lenneville, the main student organizer behind the Board of Trustees protest and town hall, wrote on Facebook Thursday that he still plans to protest at the board’s meeting later this month. 

“The bad news is that AU still plans to increase the cost of your education by $2,000,” Lenneville wrote, referring to the board’s previous approval of tuition increases. “We have a unique opportunity to take action and draw their attention to one of the most pressing issues of our time. Isn’t that why we came to AU in the first place?”

Haley Samsel and Dan Papscun contributed reporting to this article.

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