Some students at Alabama universities are suing in order put a stop to mandatory meal plans:

According to the Auburn University website, students who live on campus must pay a minimum of $995 per semester for the dining plan. Those living off campus must pay at least $300 for the program.

“These fees are not tuition and not related to class instruction,” attorney John F. Whitaker of Whitaker, Mudd, Simms, Luke & Wells said in a statement. “Instead, these food fees are mandated because these state schools have agreed to give certain food vendors exclusive control over these student food purchases in exchange for millions of dollars being paid back to the school. The students themselves are given no option.”

Compass Group USA and Thompson Hospitality Services, both from Delaware, are food vendors specifically named in the lawsuit.

Southern Tech University’s policies requiring meal plans was, I believe, limited only to those that lived in campus. I lived on campus all four years and there was never a semester that I did not spend the entire debit. Even so, the policy used to make me angry. It wasn’t actually the existence of the policy, which the Alabama students are objecting to, but the way that the university used to want it both ways.

It seems to me that campus food ought to fall under one of two categories. Either it is there to make a profit or it is there to serve the students. I am actually okay either way. If they simply told vendors “Hey, rent this space and sell food to our students and faculty!” that would certainly be fair. The university can get some money for renting out the space and people have eating options that they can take advantage of or not. For people like me, if we were to choose “not” then we can stock up our fridges and take it from there. Granted, the options surrounding the university in the seedy part of town were somewhat limited. So really, they likely had our money anyway. If only they would have just given us the choice.

But sometimes you can’t give people a choice and I understand that. I mean, sometimes you have to force everybody to pay something so that the businesses can be profitable. Now frankly, I question the business acumen of anybody that can set up shop at a university with a captive audience of 20,000 students walking from place to place and rarely driving off campus (seedy part of town, remember, plus parking spaces were golden) who cannot turn a profit. But that can also be attributed to the university charging too much for the space.

So it creates a situation where the university gets loads of money from the food providers in return for forcing the student population to pay the service provider in order to pay the exorbitant amount of money for the contract. In other words, we were essentially paying the university. However, because of the way that they have it set up, it seems like we’re not paying the university. We’re paying for food. Nevermind the portion of the food that is going to overhead which is going straight to the university.

While I would appreciate more transparency, even this doesn’t bother me all that much. I mean, in the end we’re making our check out to the university either way and they are needing and getting the money either way. What bugs me most about it is that it is advertised as a service to us. We have to do this in order to have food available on campus. Or something like that. However, it is only a service when they’re collecting money. When they’re deciding what they give back, it’s suddenly a business again.

It ultimately seemed (and seems) to me that if we’re all in this together and we all have to contribute, then there should be a premium put on actually serving us even when it is not entirely convenient to do so. I was not asking for a diner be open at 3 in the morning. I wa not even asking for things to be open during holidays. I was asking for breakfast. Around my junior year, they stopped serving breakfast at the dorms. Just. Stopped. Why? Oh, because they weren’t making a profit. I didn’t give a rats patoot if they weren’t making a profit. They’re not there to make a profit, we are told when they are collecting the money. They’re there so that we can eat. It seems to me the ability to get breakfast is one of the things that we are paying for when they tell us that we all have to buy food. It’s supposed to be for our convenience.

I recognize that to one extent or another that they’re getting our money either way. But the only argument for mandatory meal plans is that without them we won’t have the convenience of being able to eat conveniently on campus. But when breakfast isn’t available, or when lunch is served only from 11 to 1:00 (nevermind if you have an 11:30-1 class), or there is nothing open on entire weekends, it’s not really much of a convenience, is it? It’s a business. Except when they demand we pay. Then it’s a business. That can’t be boycotted. All of the downsides to either option.

-{via OTB}-

Category: School

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2 Responses to Mandatory Meal Plans

  1. Kirk says:

    According to a recent article I read somewhere (sorry, I can’t remember exactly where), many colleges are charging 300% more for tuition than they were back in 1980. (Yes, that’s adjusted for inflation.) Meal packages and dorm living have gone up also, but tuition is the real steal.

    As for food, it was free for me back in my USN days, but the officers actually had to pay some money for theirs. It was a small amount ($50/month I think) but it really bugged some of the officers that they had to pay it.

    We all ate the same food. To this day I have no idea why the officers had to pay that money.

  2. Will S. says:

    Spot on. University is a racket, and a rather expensive one at that. Then, after graduating, they have the gall to beg you for more money, as an alumnus. WTF? I paid my money, got my education, and you think I should pay you more? What the hell for? F— that; I haven’t given my alma mater one GD red cent, and they never ever will get any, from me.

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