THE SILHOUETTE • A5
THURSDAY, MARCH 31, 2011
Meal plans an issue Students express mixed sentiments about food services JEMMA WOLFE
ASSISTANT NEWS EDITOR
As another academic year draws to a close, one can witness an ever-growing number of students clutching precariously piled boxes of chocolate bars in their arms as they frantically swipe their student cards in attempts to spend the last of their meal card money before it expires at the end of April. This seasonal sight, as inevitable as the reprisal of Lake McMaster, raises old, recurring questions about residence meal plans. Student concern revolves primarily around three central issues: quality and variety of products, meal plans being mandatory, and money not rolling-over into the next year. This past year has been particularly significant to Hospitality Services – the office in charge of residences and meal plans. This year launched the impressive renovation of Commons dining hall to Centro @Commons, featuring new food stations and a refurbished restaurant-esque seating area. 2010-2011 also saw the first year without beverages on campus being provided by Coke since the contract began in 1999. Until this year, Coke enjoyed an exclusive beverage contract with McMaster, meaning that all beverages on campus – both carbonated and non-carbonated – had to be supplied only from Coke. Last year when the contract with Coke was up for renewal, students voted in a referendum in favour of removing Coke’s beverage exclusivity at McMaster. Now Pepsi has exclusivity over carbonated beverages on campus, and independent companies are constantly negotiated with to provide non-carbonated beverages such as juice, milk, and specialty products. Albert Ng, Director of Hospitality Services, emphasized his preference for this system compared to when McMaster was contracted to Coke, because this allows McMaster to avoid long-term contracts completely, meaning that prices, variety and quality of products can constantly be re-negotiated with the companies to meet the needs and desires of the students. This ensures more choices for a lower cost. Every person in a McMaster residence is required to purchase a minimum meal plan that must be exhausted by the end of April or the money expires. A little known fact, according to Ng, is that usually less than $15,000.00 is collected every year from expired meal card money. This is relatively small considering the number of students in residence. Also, this money is not simply absorbed by the University as profit, but instead goes to financial aid and scholarships, and a food share program in which donations are
made to food banks such as the Good Shepherd. Meal plans being mandatory and expiring at the end of April are due to linked financial planning policies. Ng explained that meal plans are mandatory in order for Hospitality Services to budget costs for the academic year, and ensure that there will be enough money for high quality services and a variety of products over the whole year. The reason that money doesn’t roll over is also so that the University can realistically budget for the year and not over-estimate funds. Hospitality Services does a formula-based calculation to cover basic costs and deals with inflation in order to deliver a high quality of services. He also explained that if the smallest mandatory meal plan was decreased, all the other more expensive meal plans would have to increase to compensate for it. Ng asserted that McMaster’s smallest meal plan is $300$400 cheaper than other Ontario universities’ smallest mandatory plans. However, this doesn’t help student with specific dietary concerns who would benefit from the elimination of mandatory meal plans. Alyson Greaves, second year Honours Geography student, said, “The mandatory meal plan was the main thing that deterred me from living in residence during first year. Because I have Celiac Disease, I can’t eat any gluten/wheat products, which would leave me with an extremely limited amount of food to eat on campus. A meal plan isn’t worth it for me – I’d end up losing the majority of my non-refundable money.” Other students with similar issues have to make the difficult choice of either not living in residence first year and missing out on all the residence life has to offer, or basically forfeiting the price of the meal plan money that they will never use. Other students with dietary concerns, however, are satisfied with the system. Matthew Kerr, third year Honours Commerce student and three-year resident of Les Prince Hall, said, “I have no complaints about the meal plan system. I like the food on campus and have no problem spending the money on my card. Also, McMaster is incredibly accommodating for students like me who have peanut and nut allergies, especially compared to the other universities I investigated when I was still in high school.” East Meets West Bistro is an entirely nut-free facility, and other dining areas are extremely allergy-conscious. Ng expressed how student-satisfaction is important to Hospitality Services, and that a Dining Committee, comprised of students on the IRC, meets every two weeks to talk about campus food issues and makes recommendations to benefit students. Food for thought for those students burning through their meal cards on boxes of gum and chocolate bars.
Deane talks education quality Deane also plans to foster a strong sense of community around campus, acknowledging course of action for coming years. Deane that this feeling tends to fluctuate dependcredits the various formal and informal modes ing on the state of the University at the time. of communication he has had with the Mc- However, there is still much that can be done Master community for the wealth of insight to strengthen McMaster’s relationship with he has attained. Currently, Deane is on a five- the community at large that includes not year term, during which he plans to tackle a only the City of Hamilton, but the rest of the range of issues, with a strong focus on a few. province and various levels of government as Of key concern for Deane is the well. “Extraordinary progress has been made, but I think there is a long way to go,” said quality of education at McMaster. “It is not that I think the University Deane. Through interaction with the Mcis deficient in [quality of education] at all. We are in fact very successful in a number Master community as well as through communication with those outside of different programs and we the University, the overall offer a very high quality exview of McMaster, as deperience for students,” said We are in scribed by Deane is quite Deane, explaining that he fact very respectable. “My sense is plans “to lead the University successful in a that we are perceived as an toward curriculum reform to extremely interesting place, make certain changes which number of always on the cutting edge, would be really beneficial to different programs always able to see different the undergraduate education and we offer ways of approaching a parhere.” ticular problem or task,” said What Deane hopes a very high Deane, expressing his view to obtain is “a broader enquality experience that, “this perception is true gagement in undergraduate to our nature and I wouldn’t learning, so that it is not just for students.” want to change that.” in pockets that we see real Deane further explained, “I progress being made.” At present there appears to be quite some dis- think we’re thought of as an institution that parity between satisfaction with the learning has been able to do remarkable things, given experience between different faculties across our size.” After several opportunities to repthe University. “If there is a theme, I am fo- cused on academic quality,” said Deane. Of resent the University at the level of the proadditional importance is the need to maintain vincial and federal government, Deane noted McMaster’s standards in excellence in re- that it seems that the government often looks to McMaster for answers, regardless of the search and innovation, noted Deane. When targeting the academic qual- issue at hand, whether it be related to socioity, Deane is careful to take emphasis away economic concerns, industry factors, or issues from teaching itself. “A teacher may not be pertaining to education. “I have huge optimism for the fua charismatic person. It could be a really smart person who has crafted a beautiful ex- ture of the University,” said Deane. “What perience for students.” Deane hopes to build makes me feel optimistic is that almost evon efforts currently in place by McMaster’s eryone I’ve talked to has been very positive Centre for Leadership in Learning (CLL), in and supportive to see the University do well order to “stimulate dialogue on campus about and thrive, and with that level of resolve, I the nature of the learning experience,” noted think we can achieve great things,” he said, summarizing his overall sentiment about his Deane. From a less academic perspective, experience thus far. • CONT’D FROM A1