By Keren G. Raz
Illustration by Arnie Bermudez
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, October 1, 2004
Earlier this semester, Northern Arizona University implemented a $2,500 mandatory meal plan for freshmen.
In November, Arizona State University administrators hope to submit their own mandatory meal plan proposal to the Arizona Board of Regents.
UA students, get ready because we're next.
Proposals for mandatory meal plans could be on the horizon.
While Dan Adams, director of student unions, insists there are no proposals, only discussions, and no idea of what "mandatory" could mean, the fact is that he admits discussion of a minimum buy-in meal plan exists.
That needs to be taken seriously.
While the gut reaction of many students is to oppose instantly any suggestion of a mandatory meal plan or minimum buy-in, maybe it's time to set aside that reaction and think about the issue a little more.
Yes, it seems unfair to take away a student's choice of whether to eat in the union, buy food at the grocery store or eat off campus.
But choice can still exist if a meal plan were flexible enough. Rather than go with NAU's 10 or 19 meals per week plan that causes students to lose meals if they don't eat them in the week, there are other options.
Adams' idea of a minimum buy-in would give students a lot of freedom.
ASU's current, but not mandatory meal plan allows students to buy a set number of meals for the semester, not the week.
So with freedom only minimally restricted, I bet mandatory meal plans wouldn't be so bad, especially if they force the union to improve its services for students.
But let's be clear.
First we want improvements.
Then we'll give money.
ASU and NAU have approached their mandatory meal plan proposals in the opposite way.
First they said they would require students to eat at the union, then they began to make concessions on how to improve services.
Hari Kowtha, president of the NAU student body, said he has found that mandatory meal plans give NAU students more leverage in forcing administrators to make concessions and much needed improvements to dining services.
Since implementing a mandatory meal plan, the union has begun to offer 24-hour service.
ASU student body president Sophia O'Keefe-Zelman said she is putting together demands administrators must meet and questions they must answer in order to get student support for the proposal.
And they are listening, she said.
However, the UA can't follow down these paths because one notable difference exists.
ASU and NAU have been offering services for a long time that the UA union still lacks.
ASU has the Sun dollar program, so students can use their ID cards off campus.
We don't even have that yet.
NAU has an all you can eat cafeteria.
That's something else we lack.
Improve-ments first, then money.
I'm not trying to say the idea of mandatory meal plans shouldn't be discussed, because I think they should.
Money means power, and given the UA union's financial straits, students have a lot of bargaining power with the idea of a mandatory meal plan floating out there.
The union is not doing as well as it would hope financially. Last year it missed its expected growth mark by about $3 million.
But if changes to the meal plan really are about the students, as Adams insists, then he'll give us enough time to ask questions and write up the wish lists and the demands.
And he will make changes before requiring people to fork over their money.
To be fair, Adams is considering important improvements, such as the ability to use CatCards off campus and all you can eat meals.
But these two ideas provide more evidence that while a mandatory meal plan is a good idea for the future because it gives more students leverage, we shouldn't jump the gun on it yet.
Adams said more information will be available about changes to the meal plan in the next few weeks.
I hope next week union officials don't come out with proposals on how to get freshmen money.
I hope they come out with proposals on how to improve services and increase options for students.
Money from a mandatory meal plan is a good idea down the road, but right now, the union needs to do more to meet student needs.
A lot of money is at stake here.
The union needs to prove that it can make the most of it.
Keren G. Raz is a senior majoring in English and political science. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.