Tradition-Rich Program, Low on Credit
Harvard's System More Restrictive Than Other Colleges'
Although what Harvard serves in its dining halls is the most prevalent campus food question, the cost of those meals is another interesting issue, particularly here, where this year students must pay $1850 for food in order to gain on-campus housing.
A survey of meal plans at several colleges last week revealed that Harvard offers one of the most restrictive food policies, although Food Services officials said this is because Harvard operates the most dining halls.
Four out of the six campuses studied provide students with the option of subscribing to dining hall food to varying degrees. While Harvard requires students to join a 21-meal-per-week plan, Brown University, for example, permits students to pay for as few as seven, and allows upperclassmen to live on the Providence, R.I., campus without purchasing any university meals.
Dartmouth College, which is slightly more restrictive than Brown, forces its freshmen to join at least a 14-meal plan. But Dartmouth upperclassmen can purchase as few as five meals per week. MIT and the University of California at Berkeley similarly offer a selection of meal plans from which to choose. Amherst College and Stanford University, however, require an eating arrangement similar to Harvard's: students living in university housing must pay for a full week of meals.
Food officials at the six institutions pointed out that direct comparisons might be misleading. Most universities have a far greater percentage of their undergraduate populations living off-campus than Harvard. At schools with fraternities or, as in Princeton's case, eating clubs for undergraduates, a large number of students don't participate in any meal plan, even if there are several options.
Harvard's Director of Food Services Frank J. Weissbecker also said that although Harvard students are permitted to eat 21 meals per week, "they only pay for 14. So those who eat 21 meals a week are on the plus side."
The survey revealed additional differences among the six universities, including some opportunities for credit for meals missed. Brown, the university with the most lenient requirements among those schools examined, gives students $2.55 in credit for missed dining hall opportunities. Brown students can then use the credit to purchase food at university-run snack bars, offering items ranging from hamburgers to candy bars.
Dartmouth students can gain $2.25 in credit, and MIT upperclassmen can select a meal plan which offers a refund for meals not taken. Dartmouth also allows students to take their regular meals at a special snack bar area with a fixed menu, an option which is growing in popularity. "The demand is increasing for that kind of eating," said Jerry Gamble, catering manager for the Dartmouth Dining Association. "I could foresee a situation where the number of people eating from a la carte could be equal to the number of people eating in the dining hall."
Harvard's Weissbecker envisions no such developments at Harvard, where dining halls have been an integral part of House life since they were established in the 1930s. Although officials have in the past discussed shifting from the rigid policy of a mandatory food contract, they have always arrived at the conclusion that Harvard's dining arrangement could not accommodate a variety of policies, Weissbecker said. "Since each House has its own teams, libraries and kitchens, the meal plan is part of the total educational experience," he added. He also pointed to the choice of eating at one of 13 dining halls--far more than at the other schools surveyed--as another incomparable aspect of Harvard's food services.
While Harvard's food options seem to be the most strict, they also would appear to be administered in the most archaic way. Harvard still employs checkers to log its diners, but several schools have begun to use computers to increase efficiency. Students at Brown use identification cards which a special computerized laser reads, displaying the number of meals remaining on the student's account each time.
Harvard, however, appears content with its age-old system, even in the face of technological advances and more liberal policies elsewhere. "We're not miserly, just responsible," Weissbecker said.