By Sarah O’Connor, Staff Writer
Starting next fall, students with a meal plan will no longer have the option of the six-meal a week with $400 in flex cash, one that is commonly used by students with busy schedules. As a result of student and parent feedback, dining surveys and the Student Government tackling the issue, the USM administration addressed the meal removal.
David Roussel, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs, worked closely with a group of individuals to discuss the change. He met with Tadd Stone, Sodexo General Manager and several students. Roussel discussed what made the administration remove the plan.
“The USM Student Government identified a large discrepancy between the value of the six-meal plan and the 19 meal plan,” Roussel said. “The six-meal plan was so far out of balance that there was very little value in this meal plan… A large number of parents expressed concerns about the six-meal plan due to the fact that six meals per week is not enough to really sustain a person and often time students would hurt themselves by choosing a lower meal option just to be able to get the additional flex dollars.”
Despite rumors that ran amok on campus that the change occurred without student notice, the change was based on surveys that were sent out to the students. Roussel understood that students are upset with the removal, calling for additions elsewhere.
“After reviewing recent dining surveys,” Roussel said, “the USM administration reassessed the flex dollars that come with each plan to bring them more current. USM has added $75 more each semester to both the 10 and the 14 meal plan, understanding that students were running out very quickly in the past.”
The removal of the six-meal plan leaves students with the current options of the 10-meal plan with $225 in flex cash, the 14-meal plan with $100 in flex cash and the 19-meal plan with $50 in flex cash. For some students, such as second year Emily Torres, who is double majoring in psychology and human biology, losing the six-meal plan and going to the 10-meal plan does not seem like a valid option.
“I only use three meal swipes a week and use all of my 400 dining dollars,” Torres said, “and I don’t expect this to change next semester. Having 10 meal swipes and 225 dining dollars just doesn’t feel like a good option for me and my weekly schedule, which is mostly in Portland and with few gaps between classes.”
To account for student distress over the removal, Roussel sees students working closely with the Dining Services to make a smooth transition.
“Dining Services is more than willing to work with students to help them identify ways that they can maximize their meal plans to get the best value out of them,” Roussel said. “Whether this includes taking advantage of the meal equivalency in Portland and Lewiston, using the to-go meals program, or using their meals on other Sodexo campuses in the University of Maine System when they are travelling for sports, educational or other events, we can assist them in finding ways to maximize their value.”
Torres was worried about the lack of student involvement in the decision making. Torres, along with Gabrielle Nelson, were students that worked closely with Roussel and Stone regarding the meal changes. Nelson stresses that students and the university should work together for change. According to Nelson, student awareness is important when changes occur, no matter how small.
“I believe students should be able to team up with USM to create plans that are more suitable to fit students individual needs,” Nelson said. “For some students with heavier workloads finding the time to sit down in the cafe for each meal can be challenging. Because the meal plans are required for most students that live on campus, it would be beneficial for both USM and students to be working together in creating more plan choices to met the diversity of students needs.”
Regarding this change of the removal of the six-meal plan, the changes are still being discussed among Roussel, Stone, faculty and students. Student action has brought awareness about the change, and students have begun to work closely with the university about the meal plan.
“Sodexo and USM administrators will continue to survey students, meet with students and work with Student Government when making decisions about future meal plans and available options,” Roussel said.