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Harvard students who have long pined for extended dining hours may get their wish someday, but with some potentially significant sacrifices.
Harvard University Dining Services (HUDS) dominated the agenda at yesterday’s Committee on House Life meeting (CHL), as committee members heard a presentation on HUDS’s operations from the independent consulting firm Higher Aims, LLC and discussed ways to improve the residential dining system to better accommodate students’ schedules.
The presentation came just a day after the HUDS satisfaction survey results were released.
The presentation, given by Higher Aims Managing Director Robyn Davis, analyzed the cost structure of HUDS and determined that adding services would require raising costs or making trade-offs.
“In order to deliver what students want, you’re going to have to manage costs more aggressively or something is going to have to change,” Davis said.
Following the presentation, members of the committee—which includes students, House Masters, and administrators—expressed their opinions on how HUDS could best serve students.
Much of the discussion turned to debates on minor details and personal anecdotes until HUDS Executive Director Ted Mayer stood up at the end of the meeting and pleaded with the committee to focus on the primary issue at hand.
“If the committee is going to be useful in my view then it needs to take a stand,” Mayer said. “You need to make it clear that this [dining system] is a part of Harvard or ditch it. All the data’s in.”
Mayer stressed that given their current cost constraints, HUDS cannot make any significant additions or modifications without sacrificing some of the key elements of the residential dining program.
“If you want multiple meal plans, if you want to be open 24 hours, that’s not a problem—there are colleges that have those systems, but they do not have the House community,” Mayer said.
Mayer also highlighted the fact that the funds allocated to HUDS by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) in recent years have not kept pace with increased costs. In addition, FAS set HUDS’s budget for this year prior to the completion of labor union negotiations and spikes in fuel costs.
One of the alternative meal plans discussed by the committee was a “flexible meal plan” whereby all students would purchase 21 meals per week as they do now, but would have the option of reserving a certain number of those meals as Board Plus money to be used at campus eateries.
But Adams House co-Master John G. “Sean” Palfrey ’67 expressed concerns over the potential deterioration of House life and the possibility that students could mismanage their dining money and be stranded without meal options at the end of the week.
Several committee members also expressed concern that a first extension of dining hours would lead to an endless cycle of requests for later and later hours.
“I’m not sure we can manage to feed students 24 hours a day,” Associate Dean for Residential Life Suzy M. Nelson said. “At some point we need to set realistic limits—three meals a day and brain break are pretty realistic limits.”
Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and Leverett House Master Howard M. Georgi ’68 suggested that many of the HUDS programs that FAS funds, such as Brain Break, should be considered a part of FAS’s academic programs.
“The HUDS budget should not be separate from the academic budget of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences,” Georgi said.
Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71, in conjunction with the House Masters and considering the recommendations of the HUDS subcommittee to the CHL, will make the ultimate decision of whether or not to overhaul HUDS.
“Based on the findings of this report, the dining committee will convene to draft recommendations for the Dean, CHL, and House Masters to consider,” Nelson said.
—Staff writer Evan M. Vittor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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