How Should We Eat?

During the past 18 months of budget discussions on campus, the most common request I heard from students, aside from preserving the academic excellence of the College, centered on dining.

We converted the use of one of the three large dining halls from meal plan use to daily language table use and special event use, which means students all now dine in Ross and Proctor, both enlarged in the past year.  Though some bemoan the loss of convenience of having fewer options for where to eat (mostly students living in the Atwater suites since first-years in Allen never knew of the convenience), and wonder whether the servery area is larger enough to accommodate the 15-minute rushes at lunchtime, a surprising number like fewer dining halls as they can see more of their friends more frequently.  In fact, a major criticism of the original commons plan (1998), which proposed having five (yes 5) separate dining halls, was that we would be carving up the campus and students would see less of their friends than before during a crucial (for Middlebury) social event—lunches and dinner.  Moving from 3 to 2 dining halls, then, at least addressed this issue.

But the BIG issue students raise with me is the unique meal plan we have and have had for more than a decade.  We have no 21-meal, 16-meal, 12-meal options, or weekday versus 7-day options either.  We have one plan: all meals all the time.  That is, students can eat all they want, and do it at both Proctor and Ross, even during the same meal period.  They can meet with friends at Ross, have an early dinner, and then meet other friends 90 minutes later and have dinner again.  In addition, there are no “checkers” at Middlebury, which means students come and go without having to swipe an ID or be checked by anyone and so friends visiting their Middlebury students can eat as guests of the College (at no charge).

From a strictly business perspective this seems ludicrous…and some have said as much.  There is an extra cost to this kind of meal plan.  Yet students, and I mean a lot of students, and a good number of parents, have stated over and over how important an element of the Middlebury experience our unique (and more expensive) meal plan is: through it, students argue, meals remain a central part of their experience here.  Students tend to linger far longer over meals than would be the case if we had the typical kinds of restrictions one finds elsewhere and therefore our students engage their peers and quite often faculty and staff who join them for meals in ways that are very valuable and important to the overall educational experience.  Having taken many lunches in Proctor this year (and some in Ross), I can affirm this observation.  I have been to enough dining halls elsewhere to see the difference and believe the students (and parents) who make this argument make a lot of sense.

On the other hand, the question is whether all that this meal plan brings is worth the premium.   More directly, I would love to know, in specific ways, what about our meal plan do our students love most, and what about it should be preserved, and preserved above other aspects of Middlebury that are going through budgetary review.

  • Is it the freedom to come and go without having checkers so the dining experience feels more like home and not a college dining hall?
  • Is it the freedom to eat multiple times and eat all one wishes to eat at every meal?
  • Is it the freedom to bring friends along and not have to worry about paying for them?
  • Is it is something else?

I would love to hear from as many students as possible on this issue to get a better feel for what we need to consider preserving; budgets continue to be scrutinized in our efforts to retain our balanced budget and to help us allocate resources to those things that are truly institutional priorities, so please send your thoughts.  I get the “official” or administrative view on this, just as I get the official/administrative perspective on other issues, during administrative meetings.  I need the “unofficial” view, too.

It would be most helpful if you at least identified your class (’10, ’11, ’12, or ’13, with Febs adding the appropriate “.5” as desired), or how you are associated with the College if you are not a current student.

I look forward to hearing your views.

54 comments

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Elena Kennedy '06

Elena Kennedy '06’s avatar

I believe that you are right in stating that the dining plan is one of the most unique – and in some cases – inviting aspects of the Middlebury experience. One of the things about Middlebury that sets it apart from other elite institutions is the structures set in place to ensure that economic divides among students are not emphasized through on campus activities. Two prime examples of this are the dining and residential life plans. Unlike most other colleges, Middlebury does not force students to chose where they will live or how they will eat based on the money that they have. Although the outright cost of a Middlebury education is certainly prohibitive for some, once on campus, all students have the freedom to eat together, live in suites together, and participate in activities together without regard to finances. It’s hard to imagine a Middlebury where students are cooking ramen noodles in the dorms to try to save money or skipping meals because they skimped and signed up for the cheapest meal plan.

The dining hall set up is THE reason that I chose Middlebury over other, fairly similar schools. All three of the reasons that you quoted to me are the reasons that I like it, but the primary one is that I am able to go as many times as I want for as much as I want. In my opinion is hugely important in maintaining not only my stomach but a sense of community in dining. If I go grab a meal at 5, but have some friends who call me at 7:30, I can go back over and have desert with them, catch up, etc. I understand that not showing any sort of ID at all is practically giving food away to people (including many of my friends from home,) who aren’t paying for it–so I realize that that might need to change. It would take away from the community aspect, but might be necessary. Going to a # of meals option would be the biggest mistake, in my opinion.

Battell Freshman

Battell Freshman’s avatar

I think the two most important aspects of the dining halls are the quality and the unlimited meal plan.

I believe the unlimited meal plan ensures that money will never be an issue, and for all students to go eat wherever and whenever they want with friends. Meals are important relaxing and bonding time and if money were to be an issue this would subtract from that.

The second most important thing is quality. Although I was not here in the past when the food was supposedly better, I think that the quality now is fine but should not be reduced any further or students will abandon the dining halls in favor of restaurants and other options. Once again this would detract from the benefits of everyone eating together and decrease quality of life.

What I am not as concerned about is charging visitors or having to swipe id cards. I don’t really think this takes away from the atmosphere and if it is a way to make the dining system more profitable (and improve the quality of food maybe) then it’s fine with me. There seem to be certain times that this could make money like the popular prospie weeks or the quidditch tournament. We already swipe to get into Ross, what’s the big deal?

A few comments for thought about the financial aspects of this potential change. To implement a one card type system would likely cost 6 figures in software licensing fees and equipment with an annual maintenance cost in the ~20% of the purchase price range. It would also require staffing to implement and support the system with backup needed. Also dining hall checkers would need to be stationed at all entrances, another staffing implication. The savings may not be as great or even exist at all if all the costs get factored in…

While I agree that the unlimited meal plan enables students to spend time enjoying the dining experience, I would be thrilled if the option to have sixteen or twelve meals per week became available. As an athlete who is away many weekends of the spring and fall, I end up purchasing and preparing a significant amount of my own food and would appreciate spending less on a meal plan in order to put that money toward groceries. A number of my friends and I also have food allergies or other dietary restrictions that limit our dining hall options or simply prefer to prepare our own food. Giving students more of a choice in the matter would be great. A plan that included either a 21 meals/week or unlimited option as well as options for fewer meals would seem to work best for the most students.

Jordan c/o 2012

Jordan c/o 2012’s avatar

I’ll go ahead and add myself to the group of people who say Middlebury’s meal plan was a major attraction when deciding where to go to school. I visited other schools during my decision making process, and something about having to swipe a card made meal time seem so institutionalized. In a small way, being able to eat freely in the dining halls makes Middlebury feel more like home. College is a major transition period in a person’s life, and any way of facilitating this transition an making it more comfortable is, in my opinion, invaluable, thus making it completely worth any extra monetary expenditures.

I think, regardless of whether a full meal plan is implemented, it makes a ton of sense to begin swiping students as they enter the dining halls. One thing that would work in terms of keeping the open aspect would be to give each student some number of free guest passes a semester, like ten. That way, we could preserve the option of bringing guests (family) to the dining hall without allowing “townies” or others to take advantage of our open dining policy.
My thought is that it would be the most sensible thing to begin swiping, and to assume an unlimited meal plan but create an option for people (like atheletes or those with food allergies) to opt for a smaller / more limited plan so they could save money.

Wonnacott Kid '12

Wonnacott Kid '12’s avatar

I, too, chose Middlebury over all of the other potential schools because of the unique dining hall system. I just found it so impressive that we could eat as many times we wanted in one sitting and that we didn’t have to have food cards or meal plans – we may be spoiled in having this opportunity, but I feel like it is such an important and appealing aspect of Middlebury that changing it would be a little bit unsettling. Though, I do understand that the financial burden of the system may be overwhelming and if need be, people will always get used to the changes you make.

So yes, the dining hall is important and significant to me and many other students on campus, but life would go on if it was completely, absolutely necessary to change the dining hall system to something more cost-effective.

I agree strongly with student, ’12:
“My thought is that it would be the most sensible thing to begin swiping, and to assume an unlimited meal plan but create an option for people (like atheletes or those with food allergies) to opt for a smaller / more limited plan so they could save money.”

I can honestly say that the dining hall system was the most significant reason as to why I came to Middlebury.

That all students eat close to all their meals in the dining is a critical feature of the campus culture and I am vehemently opposed to the introduction of any differentiated meal plans. We absolutely do not have the kitchen facilities in dorms to support any number of students on reduced meal plans, and differentiated meal plans would add enormously to room draw stress and drama. (If I’m not on the full meal plan, am I guaranteed an Atwater suite with a kitchen and full-size refrigerator? Or might I get stuck eating microwaved Easy Mac all year, because I live in Painter and share one frail, partially functional stove with more than 50 other people?) Nor do all students have easy access to groceries. Doing regular and significant grocery shopping would be a large burden for students who don’t have cars on campus. I’m very uncomfortable with the potential for socioeconomic stratification.

I’m also puzzled about how we could enforce a limited access plan. Will there be a guard at every table making sure I don’t make a sandwich at breakfast to tuck into my bag on days when I don’t plan to come to lunch? Does that sandwich count as another meal? I’m small and I don’t eat that much, can I pay less than my friend who eats more? If I can only swipe in once per meal, does that mean I can’t use the bathroom, which is outside the dining and serving area in both dining halls?

The dining halls are a place to meet classmates to study or work as much as they are a place to eat and socialize. I like to sit in Proctor for over an hour every morning, studying over coffee. (Admittedly, I enjoy the rest of my breakfast much less since the introduction of first generic cereal and now the grainy yellow “cream cheese spread.”) I wouldn’t be offended if I had to swipe a card to enter the dining hall, and only occasionally do I leave a meal and come back before the next one. I have trouble believing that changing either one of these aspects, though, would make much difference without also introducing different meal plans, which I believe are both impractical and inappropriate.

As a prospective student, I recognized and appreciated the unique dining system at Middlebury, and its quality definitely factored into my decision to enroll here, but I never fully appreciated its full value until I started living here this fall. To be able to walk into a dining hall freely, with no swiping of cards and no oppressive rules governing how much or often we eat, made the transition here truly comfortable, and it makes the school culture feel relaxed and open. When visiting friends at other schools, meals simply become a different experience if one has to wait in line to be “checked-in.” The dining hall culture begins to feel regulated and institutionalized, lacking the sense of freedom that characterizes Middlebury dining, the freedom that allows incredible conversations to take place over meals. With the current setup, eating in the dining hall feels like home, never a school cafeteria.

However, all that being said, if cuts must be made to dining services, I agree with others that the first solution should be swiping, and not to the quality of the food or the comprehensive meal plan. Were a reduced meal plan created, that may be the first step to the creation of many meal plans, which (as stated in other responses) might risk creating a socio-economic stratification within the student body.

Also, because students generally don’t eat 21 meals a week in the dining hall, does the college somewhat make up for some other expenses, as opposed to a meal plan for which the college would receive no money for a missed meal?

Thank you President Liebowitz for soliciting our opinions. We genuinely appreciate it.

Additionally, the quality of the food is a major component of the experience as well. This must not be forgotten! Being able to enjoy a meal and look forward to dinner is perhaps most essential to the dining hall culture here. However, I have been told by upperclassmen that the variety and quality of food has noticeably declined in the past year…

Our current dining paradigm, in my opinion, is an essential party of the Middlebury College experience. It isn’t the amount of food we eat, how often we eat, or when we eat. It is simply the idea that food and the process of eating is a means through which community is built. In our current system, dining halls are not markets or stores. They are life centers, study carrels, and play areas. They are a part of our home at Middlebury.

One of the aspects of American culture that I truly would love to change is our attitude toward meals. The act of eating is not meant to be a quick, mindless experience. A meal is a time to slow down and digest not only the nutrients your body needs, but the nutrients your soul needs as well. Communicating with friends over a salad or a panini is vital not only to ones life here on campus, but throughout our whole experience as humans. If we do not learn at college to slow down, to balance work and play, stress and relaxation, then when else shall we learn it?

The current dining system is a premium one, no doubt. But it is an investment whose returns manifest themselves in happier, more fulfilled students, not our bottom line.

Don’t change it, Ron!

This is one of the main reasons why I decided to come to Middlebury over many other schools. I love the fact that there is no stress regarding meals and that there is no discrimination based on finances. It would be the worst idea to implement a meal plan system! The entire community aspect would change and I would be very disappointed in my school. I talk to prospective students all the time and one of the biggest drawing features is the open dining plans. Don’t change this!

All the qualities you mentioned are part of what makes Middlebury’s dining services wonderful and integral to the school, but I agree with many of the other commenters that if something has to go, I would prefer it to be the lack of card swiping before any of the others. Having to show my ID wouldn’t really bother me, and I think “student, ’12″‘s suggestion of a certain number of guest passes makes a lot of sense. If you go to school in the general vicinity of where you live, having friends come visit isn’t such a big deal for them financially, but on the few occasions I’ve had people come visit, they had to buy plane tickets, meaning the promise of free food made the prospect of visiting much more feasible. Since so many Midd kids are from out of state/country, I have a feeling a lot of people have had this experience. Still, I have often wondered how Midd manages to give away so much food to people who aren’t paying tuition, so if something has to change, I think this area is the best (and perhaps easiest) to target.

Thank you for asking the students their opinion on the matter President Liebowitz, I really appreciate the fact that you are looking at the “unofficial view.” I think everyone likes the current dining hall system better than a swipe card one, the question is whether it is worth it. I personally think it is worth it based on my experience here at Midd so far. I love being able to run in the dining hall to grab an apple between classes. During mealtimes, I appreciate being able to only have to wait in line for food and not for a cashier. It costs extra money, yes, but I think there are other ways to cut costs by getting rid of some of the waste in the system.

For one thing, there is lots of food waste. Make a rule that says you have to finish everything in your plate before giving it to the dishwashers. At an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant, it is quite common for owners to charge for large amounts of uneaten food, but at Middlebury, it seems that half of the food prepared by the dining hall staff, which is superb by the way, goes right into compost. While this is great for boosting Middlebury’s compost per year, it also costs more money than it needs to. If students simply ate what was in their plate, the dining hall staff could make better estimates about how much food to purchase and prepare.

Another thing I see is dish waste. Yes, if it has not been brought to your attention before, a good number of students have been throwing their dishware and utensils in the trash, rather than bringing it back to the dining halls. At the recycling center, we find a good number of the dishes cracked by the time they get to us, but you would be amazed at how many dishes the recycling center brings back to the dining halls. The other day, I helped a recycling worker bring about eight recycling containers full of dishware to Proctor that had all been thrown out within just the past few weeks. Fine students, give them citations for throwing out dishes before implementing a swipe card system. We are losing dishes every day through carelessness and I know that the dining halls do not want to purchase new dishes based on the antique ones from storage we have been using recently.

Those are the two big sources of waste I have noticed. I think that addressing them would probably upset some students, but I think everyone would agree that implementing common sense measures (eat the food you take, don’t put your dishware in the trash) is better than switching to a restricted, pay-as-you eat dining hall system.

Class of '09 Gal

Class of '09 Gal’s avatar

Wow… I’m impressed with the lack of contributions from upperclassmen. First of all, there are many issues to deal with, and indeed many perspectives. Some of these issues aren’t even listed here:

-Quality of food as gone down in four+ years. Part of that is cost, unavoidable… fine.
-Dishes are being STOLEN from the school with little regard, and the college doesn’t seem to care.
-There is no one checking the doors for whether or not you’re a midd kid… what bothers ME about this… is that FACULTY EAT FOR FREE. We are paying them 100k plus, and they come in and eat for free? whhhaaa?
-The attitude that precipitates from this environment is one of entitlement. Kids take their food back to their rooms, eat it in their rooms, and leave their dishes in the bathrooms for “someone else” to clean up after them. Unacceptable.
-Socioeconomic issues? Just because we all get the same meal plan doesn’t mean we all want it. I have 30k in student loans now. I think I would have been happy with knocking some of that off. As mentioned by an athlete, if you don’t eat there, you are throwing your money away, and that’s not always an option for our students. Athletes aren’t the only ones called away for periods of a time.

Solution: Hire people to sit at those gates, and have turnstiles so that people can’t go in through the exits. You have to have a Midd ID to get in. And someone who is NOT A STUDENT and will actually say something needs to be there. STOP ALLOWING STUDENTS TO STEAL CHINA. What a ridiculous expense… plus no one wants to bring it back… half of it is broken or thrown away, and then people end up having no glasses, forks, etc. especially during the rush hours. That 40k+ dollars you spent on china one year could pay for another student to attend the college (almost). Don’t talk to me about checkers as being an expense. You only have two dining halls, and 40k is easily less than what they would save you. We’re not factoring in extra people who eat food, TAKE FOOD BACK TO THEIR ROOMS FOR LATER… I mean, come on Midd… you talk a big story about reducing your footprints… it’s almost as laughable as free printing.

Middlebury is about doing what’s good for the news story, not what’s hard for the precious middkids. Build a bioplant, but we’ll throw out tons of china and food every year and allow kids to waste tons of paper. Why? Because we don’t want to upset them!

As far as a “meal plan”. You can dramatically solve issues by not forcing everyone to spend 6k on food for a year (I used the prices given/meal *7 days*40 weeks), or whatever you figure it out to be. I never ate breakfast, so over the course of four years, I lost $5,600. If you told me at the time that you were charging me 6k a year for food, I think I would have cried. It kills me now that I have 30k in debt, 24k of that was for food… a lot of which I didn’t like or didn’t eat.

I think that you could do a meet half-way system, whereby you have a checkout person in the dining hall, so people have to pay/check out food, or certain types of food, but other things, such as drinks, could be available so that people could go into the dining hall and just grab coffee without having to worry about paying, etc. But should the kids who get sausage, eggs, waffles, etc. pay the same as a kid who eats granola and yogurt, or me, who eats nothing?

I seriously have a problem paying for random people to eat, but if a faculty member wants to grab coffee with a kid and get an orange? I don’t care THAT much.

What has always bothered me about Midd is that they cut things without looking at the issues. Everyone complained about the dishes issue, but nothing was done. Everyone complains, complains, complains, then they start cutting out real maple syrup and juice at dinner… WHAT!? How is that an answer!?

Remember when they got rid of trays? I was SO happy, and everyone was “so upset”… but how much did it save the college? People were taking less food, throwing out less, not washing so much stuff… I mean, it all adds up.

Take the time to do your research Midd… the poor kids are still losing out by your “everyone is equal” system, just four years later.

Guaranteed with the suggestions I just made, you will make your cleaning staff (who don’t have to deal with stray mugs, etc.) happier, your chefs will make less food, those who wash dishes will wash less, not have to deal with stacks of dishes sitting outside in the morning to wash… you will add like 4-8 jobs, midd kids won’t pay as much for their food, and you will work on getting rid of that “holier than thou” attitude that plagues the school. It doesn’t have to be “meal plan”/”no meal plan”… try focusing on what types of things are costing you money. Giving out soda water isn’t the same as giving out salmon. However, people would be very happy with unlimited “cheap” stuff…

The initial backlash will be similar to the “no juice at dinner/trays” thing. In the end though, people won’t care, and you’ll ultimately save money/make Midd a more respectable place.

Wonnacott '12.5

Wonnacott '12.5’s avatar

Middlebury’s open dining plan is one of the greatest contributors to the familial feel of our college. The ability to spend as much time at dinner, return to the dining halls as many times as desired, and get as much food as one wants are invaluable aspects of the Middlebury experience. I can’t think of the amount of times I’ve been returning from the gym around 4 and have popped into Proctor for a quick snack, or the times I’ve finished a meal only to get a text from a friend and return if only to sit and snack with them while they ate. Through the busy weeks, meals are my social time and the outlet to the sometimes intense stress of this school. New meal plans or eliminating the all-you-can-eat-however-many-times-you-want option would both remove this outlet and add the stress of choosing a meal plan and where/how much to eat for dinner. The social cost of adding a meal plan would, in my mind, far outweigh the monetary benefits.

I would, however, not be opposed to swiping at the door for meals, as a deterrent to non-Middlebury students taking advantage of our open dining. If this is added, however, I would put no restraint on the amount of times one can swipe in, and I second the idea of having a liberal number of guest passes per semester so our friends can still come eat for free. Having had multiple friends try to sneak me in to the dining halls at their respective schools has really led me to appreciate the ease at which Middlebury welcomes visitors. I would hope that adding swiping for meals would in effect keep our dining plans the same but better prevent non-Middlebury students or guests from receiving free meals. My only concern with this method is how swiping would add to the already congested lunch and dinner rush hours at Proctor and Ross.

Thanks for considering our opinions, and I hope not too many changes are made to our great meal plan!

This week is one of the most stressful of the semester, between midterms and essay assignments it seems like everybody is swamped with work. It is this week, more than ever, that I have seen the benefit of our dining system. During such busy and stressful times, meals act as a chance to relax, catch up with friends, and take your head out of the books. The flexibility of the dining hall system has allowed me to enjoy my meals and take my time and eat when is most convinient during this hectic time. Furthermore, these relaxed meals often foster discussion about classes and provide an opportunity for an informal academic exchange very different from what takes place in the classroom. This valuable exchange would probably be less likely to occur if students were forced to swipe cards and were limited to a certain amount of meals a day.

I wrote earlier, but now that I think about it, if anything for dining needs to be cut, would Atwater breakfast make a big enough difference that these other things might not be considered?

Thanks for asking our opinion, Liebowitz, it’s greatly appreciated. I am definitely a strong proponent of the dining plan as is. As some of the others have stated, my meals play a key part in maintaining my social community here. I’ve been told I have a relatively large social network, and that definitely is kept up by being able to swing by at (virtually) anytime and grab a snack, a drink, or a full meal with any of my friends for any amount of time. I spend a large amount of time in the dining halls, and I really enjoy long hours with friends in good conversation. I wouldn’t want any of that to change.
If you believe making us swipe cards would help, I’m all for it. Also, I do agree that people taking dishes is still a major problem. I can honestly say that any dish/glass I’ve taken from the dining halls I’ve returned within 24 hours. Many people on this campus, however, do not follow such a protocol. I’ve seen dishes on Battell Beach, in hall kitchens, etc. and it’s shameful. You’d think the students on the campus would be better than that…I guess not, sadly. I’d say some kind of push for greater awareness of what it means to not return dishes; maybe some of these numbskulls can actually get it through their heads to not drop a plate in a bush outside.

@ Class of ’09 Gal:
First off, why do you care? You’re done. I know it’s hard to let go.
Second, who are we kidding, they did NOT spend $25,000 of your tuition on food. If they were to implement a meal plan, much of your claimed money would go toward your “people to sit at those gates”, your turnstiles, your card-swipers, network bandwidth, and software licenses. Do you think we’d actually hire two people to watch over the entrances? More likely, we’d pull from our existing labor supply, costing the college more while giving nothing to the community.
Third, faculty? What faculty? They do have a sort of meal plan figured into their contracts (or at least they used to). I like eating with some of the brightest academic minds in the nation, and I welcome more of the faculty to start taking advantage of the facilities. I come from a single income ($60k) family, I work summers and weekends, and I’m going to be $16,000 in debt–and I don’t care if some of that is from a dining system that allows us to enrich our academic experience with discussions in the dining hall.
Before you stop me to tell me that dining hall conversation is mostly worthless drivel, remember: we are really smart. The most stimulating conversation I have at Middlebury brings together references to a myriad of different disciplines and unites them. In class, this happens in a very formal way. In the dining hall, the discussion may have a more irreverent tone, but is still very sophisticated. If this was not the case for you, I suggest you get better friends.

Your “meet halfway” system with cash registers in the serving area is cute. It would work if it didn’t make the lines longer. It will.

When you talk about a “holier than thou” attitude, I think you forget that this is a special place. A different place. We never said we are better, but we like being weird. I think your whole post has a sort of “holier than thou” tone to it. Should’ve gone to Dartmouth–actually you seem like more of a Wesleyan or Bates sort of person.
When you say nobody will care if a meal plan is implemented, I think you mean that nobody will think that the students have any say in the way this place is run, so they’ll stop caring because they’ve been stepped on, and submitting quietly is easier than banging their heads against the stone cold soul of Mead Chapel’s final word.

I love the current dining hall system. It makes Middlebury unique to other schools and helps it feel a lot more like home than an institution. I am also very curious about the financial side and how much the college could potentially gain from a meal plan. I don’t find the business side too ludicrous since in my experience relatively few visitors come, students don’t seem eat a lot more than they need to, and it clearly adds value to Middlebury for current and prospective students.

The way I see it, Mr. Liebowitz, you are trying to make a decision between effectiveness of food service and quality of life. When you closed Atwater, you lowered the effectiveness of food service and increased efficiency of food service. Now, you have heard a lot of complaints about the lunch rush and the dining halls pushed to capacity. The official, functional view is that it is possible to increase the effectiveness of food service by increasing its efficiency, scrapping the current plan for a more “traditional” plan like that of other colleges. But you say you are wondering what in the current meal plan we think increases quality of life. You want us to define the intangible thing we cite when we plead with you not to impose regulation on the dining halls.

We are in it for the sense of community. We desperately don’t want to lose the sense of community that comes only from settling down to a warm dinner for two hours with whomever may pass by, and discussing (ludely, formally, irreverently, aggressively, passively, bilingually) whatever comes to mind. We’re all very smart here, and it’s lovely to talk to so many smart people in one place. I’ve never had such intelligent conversation anywhere else. We may never get to do that again in our drab, wretched lives amongst normal people after college. In my last semester here, I don’t take it for granted.

If you like, poll us about it. Ask us what is more important: quality of community or efficiency of food service. I’m confident we will tell you overwhelmingly that community is what we want.

I know others feel that it is inequitable to charge all students the same amount, no matter how much or little they eat at the dining halls. The way I see it, this is no different from charging students the same tuition whether they are English majors (using a lot of books from the main library and our JSTOR access) or Biology majors (using the $100,000 gene sequencer, among many other very expensive things in Bi Hall, not to mention astronomically-priced GIS software licenses and senior work fund money).

In fewer words, the college already uses the Financial Aid Office to take from each according to his ability, and the academic departments’ budgets to provide to each according to his need for academic pursuits. I don’t see how regulation on dining services could be imposed to further reduce the already minimal abuse of facilities without disrupting the need-based, almost utopian economic philosophy upon which this college is built.

Class of '09 Gal

Class of '09 Gal’s avatar

@ Student ’10 March 10, 2010 at 11:50 pm

Alums have a right to care about their alma mater. They pay for you to go there. They pay for your buildings. I have friends at that school still.

I spent most of my day in dining halls, sometimes around 12 hours (I didn’t always leave between meals, even when it was “closed”). But I’m also a poor student, and I feel like even though I was on 100% financial aid, that Midd didn’t really care when they throw money away. I had other friends who were poor as well and they felt the same way. Like I said, sure I was given “the same opportunity” as rich kids, but I’m the one walking away with 30k in debt. I worked over 30 hrs a week four four years (inc summers) in addition to working on a degree. I didn’t get to “play” like the rich kids did. No lazy saturdays, no boating on the lake in the evenings. I worked every moment I could, with occasional days off. Midd wasn’t “easy” for me, and it angered me how people treat the staff by taking dishes, leaving them all over creation, etc.

I think in general, I don’t like Midd’s equalizing philosophy. I also took Chinese, and even though it was 7 class hours a week, I get one credit. Even though I took a religion course that was 3 hours a week, almost no homework, etc. and it’s worth the same.

By the way, for anyone else who isn’t aware. Middlebury is the most expensive school in the nation. (Some put us at no. 2) That should be looked at. Period.

The dining hall setup is “amazing”…. but it’s also irresponsible in terms of waste. It costs. Everything “amazing” costs. That’s why other schools aren’t doing it. Midd either needs to be comfortable with the amount that it costs, or do something about it. Personally, I think they have to do something about it, because all the other colleges are looking at making school cost less.

Midd Parent '13

Midd Parent '13’s avatar

Limits on the available times to eat will affect the quality of the Middlebury experience, I feel.

From a health perspective, several smaller meals a day are often advised. Students now can adjust their eating to their schedules and study time, including, for instance, an afternoon snack of soup and a later dinner. To my knowledge, the open dining system actually keeps students from overeating and hording in their rooms, since they know they can come back later.

From an environmental perspective, the current system likely saves electricity, as fewer students need refrigerators, microwaves, and other cooking equipment with the current plan – the dorm fire safety issues are probably decreased as well. First years might be discouraged from shipping these bulky items to campus.

The cost of a monitoring system is a significant factor to consider – it may be cheaper to allow a free meal for some, than to hire multiple staff to monitor the current, reasonably responsible students.

However, dining availabilty to visitors to large campus events should have reasonable limits on the dining availability – visiting sports teams and family members should be discoraged from taking advantage of the current students’ system.

I think the freedom to come and go into the dining halls as we please is very important. I really like the system, and I don’t want it to change. I live in a house on-campus where ID cards aren’t needed to go in and out. I would hate to think that I would walk all the way to a dining hall and be denied food because I left a dinky piece of plastic in another coat pocket.

If we MUST make a change, I think we should make non-ID card holders pay for meals.

I agree that not paying by meal is important to maintaining a sense of equality. If I’m going to have to pay for individual “meals” I would likely go buy food in town.

Thanks for reading our opinions!

Unlike so many others here, the dining hall system was NOT one of my main reasons for choosing Middlebury. During my preview days, I didnt even think about it–all I knew was that I liked the community here, I liked the smiles and stories and “welcome to Middlebury”s that I got as a prospie. I didnt realize until my freshman fall just how much the dining halls contribute to, nourish, and indeed form the framework of that sense of community.
Because of things like the Commons system and academic interest housing, students are not necessarily likely to live with all their friends here. The most common place I spend social and conversational time–whether it be casual, hilarious, probing, relaxing, formative, or myriad other adjectives–is in the dining hall. Taking that away would make my Middlbury experience totally different.
When a friend came to visit from another small liberal arts college, he was amazed at how effectively dinner was as a social time, the one point in the day when everyone gathers to relate and connect before rushing off to their next meeting or rehearsal. He told me that he “pretty much only sees friends on the weekend” at his school, and that Middlebury “felt more like home” than his college ever had. What an unfortunate way to live!

That being said, I think the most important issue to tackle is the disappearing dishes. It’s a HUGE problem for Reslife and Custodial, not to mention the students paying for it, dining, and the administration. Because we have outdoor seating, this would be hard to do during the warmer months, but even providing cheap paper plates as well as the paper cups would significantly cut down on the number of dishes being stolen. Everyone, from dining to reslife to custodial to the administration to students, complains about dishes, but nothing seems to be being done about it.

Secondly, if something else has to go, I’d say the idea of showing your Midd ID at the door is not a bad one. You wouldnt have to swipe and deal with the technology, a staff member would recognize Midd IDs easily enough. Giving every student 10 guest passes a semester would also work well.

I tell all my prospective student tours that the dining system is in my top two favorite things about Middlebury (they’re tied for favorite). I’m not lying. Please dont change it too drastically!

I’m curious what type of checker system is potentially in the works. The way I see it, there are several options, of which some are more attractive than others:

1. Only swipe to enter.
2. Swipe to enter and swipe to get certain food items.
3. Only swipe to get certain food items.

I would hate to be charged based on certain food items that I wanted, so obviously option 1 would be my preference of the three above.

I would be curious to see what percentage of students eat at more than one dining hall per meal. It seems to me that the amount of students who have 2 lunches or dinners is pretty small, but I might be incorrect. I can safely say that I enter dining halls right around 21 times per week (maybe 4 times during a random weekday, and only twice on Saturday and Sunday – something to that effect). I would be fine with meal plans based on number of entrances to dining halls, as long as we could get as much food as we liked during each trip. I would not like to be charged per item.

While it is super convenient to be able to bring guests without charge into the dining halls, I would support some sort of guest pass system with maybe 6-12 meals included per pass (2-4 days of visiting) and 1 or 2 of those passes issued to each student per semester. I just made up those numbers, however, so the math might be that my numbers end up costing just as much as the current plan. It’s a start, though.

I think the best option for a swipe-in system where students can also opt for a certain (reduced) number of meals per week would look something like this:

-Students who wanted to be on an unlimited meal plan could still do so and pay the price set by the comprehensive fee, with financial aid covering the unlimited meal plan so students aren’t tempted to go without eating to save money. The unlimited plan could be something like Harvard’s, where students have 99 “swipes” per week to get them into dining halls, thereby keeping the option of going to Ross for dinner and Proctor for dessert open.

-Other meal plan options would be available for students who don’t want to be on the unlimited plan, with something like 7, 10, or 16-meals (“swipes”) per week at a proportionally lower cost.

-Students would swipe their cards to get in to Ross or Proctor and could stay there as long as they want and also go back for seconds, etc.

-Everyone would get some number of guest passes per semester, which would carry over if unused (or which could be traded for more pages of printing…).

As far as returning dishes goes, have a day where returning dishes to the dining halls equals an increase in personal printing quotas…a fork or knife could be two pages, a glass or mug could be five, and plates and bowls ten. After that, actually crack down on people leaving the dining hall with utensils and dishes. Of course it’s convenient to carry out food, but it’s something we would grumble about and get used to after a bit, especially if someone were to call us out on it.

Open dining is wonderful, but honestly, I came to Middlebury for so much more than that-the quality of courses and professors, the interesting students, and the beautiful landscape. It’s nice to have something that makes us unique, but then again, we still have Quidditch and the Midd Kid Rap to make a name for us out in the world…

the current dining system is incredibly important to me and is the single most important part of my social life on campus. Most of the time I spend with my friends is sitting around the table at dinner for at least an hour each night. sometimes we stay even longer, just savoring the moment, and with no feeling that we are limited in any way in our dining experience. the dining halls are the social hubs of this campus and define daily life in so many important and excellent ways. I strongly believe that the entire social life at middlebury would be fundamentally altered for the worse by changing the meal system as it currently stands.

From the above comments I have seen that many people have discussed the prospect of swiping in to save money. I disagree with this suggestion, because it creates a physical barrier between the students and the dining hall which will be prohibitive even in the smallest of examples. Say you walked out of the dining hall for a second but then saw someone you knew inside and wanted to talk to them. Now your only option is to wait on a line to swipe back in, but this takes so long that you decide not to talk to that person. These types of little prohibitive actions will add up and make for a less socially conducive, free, and open atmosphere.

I see other areas where dining could save money that would not alter the current system of dining:

-get rid of hot breakfast on weekdays, period. just have cold breakfast in all the dining halls, and hot breakfast on the weekends.

-if it means saving the current dining system as we know it, get rid of midnight breakfast again.

- cut an hour off of proctor dinner, so it opens at 5:00 instead of 4:00

Zach Schuetz '11

Zach Schuetz '11’s avatar

I’d like to agree with those who’ve said that our dining halls host some of the most amazing and intellectual discussions I’ve ever had. I remember when I visited the College and as part of the day’s events we were invited to sit in the dining hall and discuss various topics, including the nature of art. It was a fascinating exercise, but I didn’t see how it would relate to actual daily life at college.

Years later I can say that I have indeed had many discussions about art, science, philosophy, religion, literature, life, death and anything else imaginable in that same dining hall. It’s also the only place I see a lot of my friends on campus, since we live in different areas and have different classes. How many of those discussions wouldn’t have happened if, when I got a call at 6 inviting me to Proctor, I had had to say “Sorry man, just swiped into Ross”?

It’s also crucial for me in particular, for health reasons, but for the general populace as well to eat as often as possible. An apple between classes or two short evening meals on either side of rehearsal can make a world of difference, instead of trying to cram all of our daily calories into one or two meals. I’m sure your research into other colleges shows that most students will conclude it’s not “worth it” to purchase [a meal plan that includes] breakfast every day, since they may or may not have time to eat a full meal, but I feel the administration would be doing students a disservice by not encouraging them to do whatever they can – grabbing a bagel on the way to class probably isn’t something many students are willing to pay for, but I cannot count the number of times it’s made the difference between staying awake through my morning lecture and not.

Speaking of grab ‘n’ go, one of my fondest memories is of escaping the noise of the dining hall – which can admittedly be significant during the dinner rush – and eating in a friend’s room while watching anime. This issue has only become more of a concern as the dining halls become so crowded you can hardly find a seat. During academic crunch time, the freedom to grab a plate and find a corner of a lounge (or, in appropriate weather, outside) can mean not having to decide between preparing for class and eating a full meal. And for those of us who prefer to get our protein from Ross, grabbing a plate and then heading to Proctor for a dinner date with our more vegetable-oriented friends is an attractive option. Please consider carefully before removing it. While I recognize that this freedom is unusual, to me it is an important example of the atmosphere of trust that pervades the College.

It is a shame that some students choose to disrespect this trust by not returning their dishes or – much as it boggles the mind – by actually throwing them away, as Recycler ’13 and Sarah ’12 alluded to. Our social house has in the past taken the initiative to return hundreds and hundreds of dishes to the dining halls, from all corners of the campus, yet more appear every day. Food waste is another problem, although its effects are less easily seen. However, we must have faith in our fellow members of the College community. I believe that with concerted effort, we can adjust the campus culture to one where students show respect and thrift not only by using drying racks and forgoing trays but by returning their dishes and cutting down on waste. If we’re to make a major change to the dining system, let’s have it be one that benefits not only the bottom line but also the environment, our thankless custodial staff, and everyone who doesn’t have to walk past a nauseating pile of dirty dishes every day – not by taking away student freedoms, but by seriously encouraging students to – to use a catchphrase – choose responsibility.

Kim Ammons '11

Kim Ammons '11’s avatar

I can’t agree more with everyone above who is emphasizing the importance of Middlebury’s current dining hall plan in the role of our campus culture. Countless times I’ve been able to say to friends from other colleges, “Nope, we don’t have a meal plan–we can come and go as we please!” and watch their faces turn to disbelief and jealousy in seconds.

Particularly now that I am spending the semester abroad at a university which is on the meal plan, I realize how much of my social life at Middlebury revolves around the dining hall and how much that means to me. It affords us the opportunity to stop by a dining hall for a snack before an important meeting and then return for a proper dinner afterwards; it affords us the opportunity to catch up with a friend we haven’t seen in weeks or to have a 2-hour discussion about philosophy with someone we just met; it affords us the opportunity to plan casual club meetings in a convenient location at a time at which everyone can meet.

Now that I’m away from Middlebury, the thing that I miss the most about Midd is our dining hall plan. I truly believe that this campus would become a very different place if Middlebury adopted a meal plan, and the change wouldn’t be for the better. Instead of the adoption of a meal plan, I’m willing to accept any other budget cuts the school chooses, because I love our current system and would sacrifice anything in order to keep it.

The dining hall being eat what you want is absolutely one of the most worthwhile things at middlebury. A meal plan would significantly change the social atmosphere by fragmenting friends who have the plan and those who choose not to.
I do not object to ID cards being checked at the door. Ross already has someone sitting out in front who would be able to do this.
Also, the food quality has gone down since I got here. Please arrest this. Food is cheap compared to almost everything else, but makes a huge difference in the quality of student’s lives. it probably gives the most bang for the buck in terms of student happiness on campus.
I would like it if Faculty would eat with students more often. Dining with professors would be a great way to have informal conversations that help raise new questions about courses.

as for the idea that athletes should have a reduced meal plan because they are losing money on meals not eaten here, (i assume) the school is spending so much more on travel, etc. for them on the road as well as top-notch athletic facilities and coaches, so if you look at it that way, it evens out. not intending to sound argumentative at all, just raising a point.

I have been trying to lose the “freshman 15″ – literally 15 pounds I gained in my first semester here – since J term ’09. I can finally say that I’ve almost done it. It hasn’t been easy; only recently have I found the formula that apparently works for me: buying food so I have it on hand in my kitchen (I live in a house), making my own small meals for myself when I get hungry and eating about 1 meal a day in the dining hall.

I get the sense that I am REALLY not getting my money’s worth, paying for the meal plan as I am but only taking from the dining hall on a daily basis a bowl of soup, a panini, and a cup of coffee. I feel like I am paying for athletes to pile their plates with tons of food.

I agree that our current dining hall system fosters community and ups our perceived quality of life. But if I could possibly opt out of it, or choose to eat a reduced number of meals per week, I DEFINITELY would. I am sure students in my dieting situation (though how many of those are out there, I’m not sure) or who, like me, love to cook but can’t justify it financially, would do the same.

(continued from above)

So – a suggestion! If Middlebury were to institute a card-swiping system, I suggest that students have the option to swipe in to buy a meal AND, separately, have the option to go sit down in the dining area, without swiping or with swiping but without being charged. Because, as people have said above, being able to while away the hours in the dining hall, and to hop from one to the other, is important to Midd kids.

Logistically, this might be a challenge, but I think it should be an element of the new system if at all possible.

Kathy Lake '77, P'08

Kathy Lake '77, P'08’s avatar

I think the required all meal, all you can eat in a single sitting plan is one of the best aspects of life at Middlebury; it would be a great mistake to dilute the social experience of dining by going to a system that allowed (or required) students to get cheaper plans for fewer meals, or pay per item. That said, I think going to a swipe system to enter the dining hall (or as in our day, the food service area–anyone could come into the dining hall for free) is a no-brainer. Back in the dark ages when I was a student at Middlebury, we were both required to check in for meals (i.e. show a school i.d. card and get our unique student i.d. number checked off the list of those who’d paid for a meal plan) as well as limit ourselves (in theory–in practice, there was really no way to tell in the pre-computer age) to one meal per mealtime. I don’t think it struck any of us as onerous to have to show an i.d. to establish we were students who had paid for the meal plan and were thus entitled to eat; nor did we feel limited in our abilities to socialize with friends–to the contrary, we usually lingered for most of the meal time at most meals. It is true that being limited to one dinner per day meant you had to choose the location, but this wasn’t much of an impediment because most people knew where their friends were likely to be, or switched back and forth for lunch and dinner (or on different days) to meet up with different groups. Our son’s much more recent experience seems much the same, in terms of how often he ate the same meal on a particular day and where he ate. Even this small loss of flexibility could be addressed in a swipe system by allowing for a certain number per week, rather than per mealtime.

Frankly, it has struck me for some time as a complete waste of money for the college to allow non-students (or at least non-i.d. card holders–faculty should be encouraged to join students and allowed to eat free with an i.d. card) to eat unlimited meals/food for free at the rest of the schools’ expense. If you want both a swipe system and the flexibility to allow a limited number of visitors to eat free, it is easy enough to do what most of corporate America does these days when you enter an office building– issue visitor i.d. cards or guest passes.

Some kind of check-in (and check-out) process might also help with the really mind-boggling (especially to those of us who came through Midd in the days when you bought your own dishware for use outside the dining halls) loss of dishware in the dining halls. Perhaps a system of earning incentives for dish return– passes that could be used for guests or additional meals or pages of additional free printing–might help address this very expensive problem.

As with so many others, having an unlimited number of meals at the dining hall is an incredibly important aspect of life at Middlebury for me. I spend hours in the dining hall many days just sitting, catching up with friends, meeting new people, doing work, or reading the paper, and the list goes on. The dining halls are the hub of our weekday social life at Middlebury and I would hate to see that change.

I believe that it certainly would change if we were to begin designating a limited number of meals per week. Socioeconomic issues are definitely at hand here; while some people feel they are wasting their money because they do not eat at the dining halls as often as others, there would be some students who desire to eat at the dining hall more often but whose families restrict them from doing so by what is more affordable. Imagine being the kid who has to sit in your gifford room and eat ramen noodles while your friends all hop right next door to proctor for a long dinner full of insightful conversation, all because you had filled your allotted meals that week. I realize that many colleges and universities across the country deal with this issue and I think it is a great privilege that here at Middlebury we do not have to. It would be a shame to see this change.

Additionally, our dining halls are not logistically equipped to instate a limited meals system. Would I have to use two meals if I wanted to go to the bathroom in the middle of lunch? One of the greatest aspects of our dining system for me is the outdoor dining available in good weather. Would I have to dehydrate myself by not drinking water with a meal as I couldn’t carry my sandwich, soup bowl, and glass all in one trip? Outdoor dining is something I would say absolutely needs to stay.

What I think is feasible is an ID check (not just swipe because with unlimited swipes, friends, off-campus people, alums could all just go in with a student and ask them to swipe their card twice). Several guest passes per semester should be allotted so that visitors can join their hosts for a Saturday morning brunch. This system would force people who live off campus to purchase the meal plan instead of just eating in the dining hall every meal for free. An ID check may result in a small amount of waiting, but I think students would get used to it more than they could get used to the loss of unlimited dining.

As a graduating senior, I realize that I will not be severely affected by any changes that are implemented, but I would hate to see the quality of life at Middlebury be diminished from the great experience I’ve had the past four years.

Ben Blackshear '12

Ben Blackshear '12’s avatar

I love the dining situation at Middlebury, but I think it would be nice for students to have some meal plan options. Due to the blossoming local agricultural economy of Addison county, there is a wealth of exciting food available on and off campus. It would be nice if students had the opportunity to explore this further through cooking for themselves or eating out in some of Middlebury’s wonderful restaurants without feeling guilty for paying to eat in the dining hall and buying other food. To me what is so great about dining at Middlebury is the all you can eat aspect, so I would prefer a plan that allows students to choose a number of days per week (or month, or semester) to have full access to Middlebury dining. This would require a checker or swipe in system, but I think it would be worth it for the freedom and independence it would provide students wishing to cook occasionally without losing money.

Brittany Coleman '10.5

Brittany Coleman '10.5’s avatar

I agree in principle that it makes sense to charge people for what they eat. In “real life,” that’s just how it works. But really, no one is arguing that life at Middlebury does (or necessarily should) reflect this “real” life. Athletes don’t have to pay out of pocket for their physical therapy, and science majors don’t have to rent out their lab equipment. You don’t have to pay for your time on the treadmill. Why, then, should we turn eating into an economic choice?

In response to comments suggesting that it is unfair for those who eat less often in the dining halls to pay as much as everyone else: I agree with you. But again, we’re not exactly living in a system of “fair” here. At least, not in the sense that you necessarily get what you pay for. With the comprehensive fee system, Middlebury gives everyone equal access to all of the physical, academic, and support resources on campus. But that doesn’t guarantee that everyone gets their money’s worth.

For example, I have to buy every single Norton anthology known to man, and that is really hard on my bank account. But that’s my choice, because I want to be an English major. If you go on a highly restrictive diet or travel for sports every weekend, that’s also a choice. Maybe we should start analyzing the majors by out-of-pocket versus departmental costs, and start reimbursing students. Or charge people for thesis carrels, rehearsal space at the CFA, or counseling appointments. The point is, that’s not how Middlebury works. You pay up front, and then you get what you can of your experience here.

By coming to Middlebury, you bought into this “comprehensive” mindset. This is not a utopia, it’s not an entirely fair place. We certainly don’t take full advantage of all the resources that we pay for. But taking that fact and claiming that the real problem is an unlimited dining plan is reductive and just doesn’t make sense.

Currently, the dining hall is one of the few places on this campus where socioeconomic disparities do not come into play. Please don’t change that. Try to fix the problems that other commenters have brought up, like stealing and discarding bowls and utensils, increasing awareness about food waste, making sure that people are actually students before handing them free food. Allow the dining halls to remain social hubs of campus, where conversations can happen and friendships can form. To me, this is one of those unrealistic, un-economical resources that we paid (a lot) for up front.

Middlebury 2012

Middlebury 2012’s avatar

I believe we should make guests pay when they visit. While I like the idea of letting friends in for free, I believe that if guests were to pay we would make a significant contribution towards dining dollars. Especially during J-term and breaks often students from other colleges visit Middlebury – if they were to pay for the three meals they eat per day, Middlebury would get a total of $21 per person per day, which would be a significant financial benefit. Of course, most people would chose to eat elsewhere or only eat one meal with their friends, and some would not come. But especially with campus tours this could be a significant way to earn money. I know many people remember their days as a prospie visiting Middlebury and liking the free food, but how much would that change if they were charged for food? Admissions could give out one free meal pass to each student on a tour and their parent could pay. Most parents who are touring Midd would be happy to do this, and when I generally see two or three parents per meal, this could be another way to earn money. Students would like to use the free meal pass and they would get the experience of eating in the Middlebury dining hall, something I believe is critical, but we could still charge parents, because either way they are traveling a long way from home and must eat, so they could either pay for them and their child to eat in town, or just both eat on campus and pay for only one.

In the other note – we need a solution to dishes! I ALWAYS bring back my dishes and often collect random dishes on campus that I see to bring back. There is a huge problem right now in Proctor about dishes. Perhaps if there were more options for plastic dish ware but we are not allowed to take dishes out of the dining hall? Or to save even more money, if we could ONLY take food out of the dining hall in our own container? Provide each student with a thermos and nalgene when they get to midd and allow them to take food out in that, but in nothing else? Trying to come up with ideas.

Unless there has been a comprehensive study that can somehow accurately account for the number of people eating for “free” and the related financial ramifications of that, changing the meal plan in any way at this point would be very premature. Beyond the fact that the sense of community is touted by the College and substantiated by the students in many of the above posts, breaking out a meal plan from the comprehensive fee could serve to undermine the promise of CPI + 1, which would be very disingenuous to both students and those who pay their tuitions, their parents. Seems to me it’s a nice back door to say one thing and do something completely different. What’s next? Different rates for various dorm rooms based on size and location as to have a true room and board fee separate from tuition? You can hold tuition to CPI+1 but then jack those rates however much you want? Beyond the bait and switch of the idea, it is also my opinion that whatever diversity you will have created in the last 40 or so years, you will risk wiping it out, especially socio-economic diversity.

Yes, implement some measures. I think having a person or two checking ID’s, with no penalty for going to another dining hall in the same evening offers no swiping per say, will at least establish a protocol for needing to pay for guests eating in the dining halls. I don’t think guests mind paying for a meal, but to jump ahead to creating a sliding meal plan is changing the culture of the school based on little in the way of hard numbers. And too.. your dish problem is not to be solved by creating a meal plan. Those are apples and oranges to my thinking. Certainly, a push to create a workable solution to get plates back to the dining halls (collection days,etc), should be put in place. But I don’t believe there are a ton of kids there who are intentionally rude or thieving (especially of dishware) and so I’d like to think that a concentrated and fun campaign to bring the dishes home could be successful.

Ronald Liebowitz

Ronald Liebowitz’s avatar

MiddParent: thank you for this post. No bait and switch intended. Maybe a switch, or a “choice” among many options within our current, and unique meal plan, but that has been what discussions the past 18 months or so have been like: what about Middlebury is central/core to the education (inside and outside the classroom) Middlebury students receive, what is not, and what is beyond the “norm” in terms of cost or at least what our students perceive as worth or not worth the additional costs.

There have been estimates by dining of how much of a premium Middlebury’s current meal plan set-up costs, but ironically, without checkers or card swipes, they are only estimates. But we know there is a significant incremental cost that needs to be evaluated in terms of value to students.

As for dishes: I don’t know how long your experience with Middlebury is, but the missing dish situation is not new, and is most certainly tied to having no checkers or any kind of system at the dining halls to minimize or stop students from leaving with utensils and dishes. Before we moved to “no checkers,” this problem did not exist. And many have tried to address the situation over the past decade, including the dining services folks, student groups, the SGA, residential staff, etc. Any and all solutions have thus far relied upon the goodwill of those taking the dishes, and though the amount of missing dishes has seemed to have declined over the years (from a once-high, I believe, of $70,000/year to around $30,000 today), it is still a problem that frustrates many on campus and is dealt with elsewhere by having some kind of checker system in place. We have had collection days in the past (in different forms, sponsored by different groups), and the debates that surrounded the missing dishes (among students), and the disrespect students feel it represents, were often heated.

So I don’t propose our look at dining as any kind of “bait and switch,” but rather a realization that whatever we decide to continue that carries a premium to it (if the system were viewed as the best system by our peers — and by best I mean weighing the costs and benefits — we would not be the only school with it), and is one of many, many things we need to look at as part of the long process of looking at how we are using our resources. Any aspect of Middlebury that has had to change as a result of the changed financial situation could make a similar claim of baiting and switching; I don’t see the “baiting” here, but admit we might need to “switch” some of the things we do on campus. And perhaps not the meal plan, but it is always better to hear more than less from students about what makes what we do either more important or less important than we might think.

I welcome (and I know many students) would welcome some ideas for that fun campaign to reduce the missing dishing problem.

Thanks for your post.

Yay people are talking about missing dishes!

Oh, I just wanted to note that last year, the budget for replacing dishes was about $49,000.
It’s been a while since I actually did all the research but the year that Midd spent $75,000 replacing dishes seemed to be an anomaly. So I don’t think it’s fair to say that dish “borrowing” has followed a pattern of getting better. It’s an issue and will continue to be an issue until it’s addressed institutionally.

Want to save money on dining?

Serve less meat.

It’s a pretty simple equation, and I’m surprised it hasn’t been suggested before. Cutting down on meat would both drastically reduce Midd’s meal spending and create a policy more in line with Middlebury’s social values. Midd is vehemently proud of its environmental record, but the fact that copious amounts of meat are served every day in the dining halls is constantly overlooked. For all of the pats on the back the college gives itself for its local vegetables, Midd still imports its meat from Tyson Foods, America’s largest meat processor with one of the worst environmental records of any company in history. More generally speaking, the meat industry is responsible for singlehandedly emitting more greenhouse gases than the entire transportation sector combined. (ref: United Nations Food and Agriculture Report 2006)

There is no reason Midd kids need to be offered a choice between chicken, hamburgers, and Alaskan salmon every night at dinner. Limit your offerings to one animal protein per dining hall per meal, and you will save thousands of dollars on dining costs. The environmental reward speaks for itself.

I agree that the dining hall system at Middlebury is a unique, awesome factor. I think that changing the way it operates would diminish the bonding that occurs between the students over something that everyone can enjoy – food. If swiping is necessary, then so be it – however, I believe the costs of this system could begin to outweigh the savings. I would prefer to see the swiping system, etc. implemented over a change in quality of the food and the unlimited nature of the current meal plan.
I also agree with Jackie (above) that altering the food offerings could be a way to reduce costs – less meats, we do have a lot of roast beef. Offering more vegetables, especially those with high amounts of protein, and less meats would help save money and reduce our footprint. But don’t get rid of apple pie or chocolate bread pudding!

Sorry I am a bit late on this, but I just want to throw in another voice to the chorus of people emphasizing the importance of the dining halls’ informal nature. The lack of checkers, the unlimited availability, the friendly staff, the long hall hours – the dining halls are a beautifully designed system and one of the best parts of Middlebury. I believe this atmosphere extends to a general feeling of openness, inclusivity and freedom on campus that I value incredibly highly. As a tour guide, I also know that there is nothing that makes such a big and lasting impression on visiting students as this unique openness. Again, it really does set a tone for the whole community. Thank you very much for asking for our imput.

Sites DOT Middlebury: the Middlebury site network.