Weekend confusion over meal swipe policy causes uproar
Issue date: 4/9/10 Section: News
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Wasting little time, students took to Facebook, where they created groups directing their anger at what was perceived as a sudden change of policy on the part of Bon Appétit. One page suggested leading a day-long boycott against the dining halls on campus, while another berated Bon Appétit and Case dining services for charging over $15 per meal.
Jim O'Brien, resident district manager for Bon Appétit, is attempting to alleviate the confusion surrounding the supposed changes. "The meal plan policy clearly states that your meal plan is a contract between you and the university, and may only be used by yourself. Meal swipes are not transferable," O'Brien wrote to students on the meal plan. "In the cashier's effort to accommodate and be gracious to our students, many have not enforced the single swipe policy…resulting in the confusion regarding this policy."
Meal swipes have been non-transferable "since the beginning of time," according to Beth Nochomovitz, director of auxiliary services for CWRU. "[The policy] is posted on the website. The policy as written," Nochomovitz clarified, "as opposed to the policy as administered."
"Incoming students, when they sign their housing contract, sign the language pretty much identical [to the website] that it's a contract between you and the university shared," she explained further.
Both Nochomovitz and O'Brien did not realize just how rampant the double swiping of CWRU students' cards was.
"The largest open house of the year occurred last Friday, and while we were at Fribley working…we noticed there was an inordinate amount of students requesting a double and sometimes triple swipe on their meal plan," O'Brien said. "The policy [is] zero, but from time to time we have been pretty gracious and allowed [double swiping] to happen, especially the case of somebody who may have left their ID card back at their dorm at the top of the hill."
Yet during Friday's dinner hours, there were dozens of students requesting that their card be swiped multiple times.
"There were probably 35 to 40 instances of this happening, and [it's] something clearly not permitted by the meal contract policy," he said. "We elected at that point not to create an incident in front of our guests of the university…so we came back and dug into it further and found out it's been going on for some time. Our people at the doors probably weren't as vigilant as they should have been."
Jacob Wagner, a sophomore chemical engineer, said he was well aware that meal swipes were non-transferable and that he was told he didn't need to bother obtaining a guest pass from Auxiliary Services.
"My first semester here, I got [a guest pass] so my father could eat here because he was curious as to what we ate," Wagner explained. "I went there, got it, and I went to the [cashier] at the dining hall and the lady said 'Well, why did you bother to do this? I'll just swipe it for you.'"
Junior David Carter had a different experience last Friday. "The first time I was made aware of it was when I tried last Friday and they didn't allow [me to swipe in for a friend]," he said.
Many students do not understand why it's such a problem that they opt to use otherwise unused meal swipes to let friends and family into the dining halls.
"If people want to spend their meal swipes on getting their friends in, they've paid their board. If they want to spend a swipe or two a week, it's not like people who didn't pay for it got fed - it was paid for," said Carter.
"It's their discretion," agreed freshman Christian Wargo. "It's like they own it - why can't they do what they want with it?"
According to Nochomovitz and O'Brien, however, there is a "missed meal factor" when Bon Appétit and Case sit down to establish meal plan prices each year. This factor is a quotient based on the number of meals missed at other Bon Appétit establishments across the country. By factoring in a set number of meals that will not be consumed each semester, according to Nochomovitz, CWRU and Bon Appetit are able to keep prices on meal plans down.
"If we were to charge dollar-for-dollar, the meal plans would be much more expensive," explained Nochomovitz. "We get every semester 'I'm paying $13 per meal - why am I paying $13 a meal?' and it basically supports the whole program, it's not just the food cost."
Student concerns have quickly reached the ears of Bon Appétit, CWRU, and USG representatives.
"I certainly did not think that the use by so many students or the expectation existed by so many students [regarding multiple swipes]. I was absolutely shocked that there was this many going on," said O'Brien.
"We're going to have to look at it," said engineering representative Colin Downey. "It's a student concern issue - that's why we exist."
"We don't want to promise any outcome," cautioned arts and sciences representative Ceylan Atesolgu. "Being part of the student life committee, I know we're going to discuss it at Thursday's meeting because it is an issue and of course it's our job to look at it."
Atesolgu said that, during her two years on the student life committee, the issues of meal plan affordability and quality of food and service have been frequently discussed. On this issue, however, Atesolgu is careful to point out that students are also responsible for these recent problems.
"I don't want to say that the students are at fault, but I feel like people need to be a little more aware and conscious of the accusations that they're making and what it's founded on," she said. "Of course that information has been available, and they say they don't look at the contract….I don't really think it's the fault of Bon Appétit or the university in failing to inform students because it's there, listed underneath the prices. It's readily available, it's easy to find."
For now, CWRU has taken care of the problem via BlackBoard, the program that controls all swipe privileges of students' ID cards.
"Now it's not even a matter of staff enforcing [the policy]. They've changed the system on Blackboard…so now you can only swipe once per meal time. There's four meal times throughout the day: breakfast, lunch, early evening, and later evening. You're only allowed to use four meal swipes per day, and that's where it comes from. So now they've made it where you can't swipe twice in a row. It's only once per meal, period," said Downey.
O'Brien hopes the confusion can be alleviated with better communication between CWRU, Bon Appétit, and students. Nochomovitz explained that dining options such as the Jolly Scholar and the Silver Spartan diner developed after students provided administrators with feedback demanding additional late-night dining options.
"We certainly don't want to make anyone unhappy," said Nochomovitz. "I think Bon Appétit goes out of their way - and I think the residential dining staff are particularly connected and have bonded with the students. They do a great job with meeting any dietary needs - and we certainly wouldn't want to undo that bond."