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Students react to mandatory resident meal plan

By Magdalene Michalik (Assistant News Editor) Hofstra students are fighting for the three percent.

Last Thursday, students turned to social media and created a Facebook group titled “Students Against Mandatory Dining Plan Policy” after the recent meal plan policy change by the university. Beginning in the Fall 2013 semester, all undergraduate residents will be required to purchase a meal plan, the least expensive option being $825.

Nearly 500 people have joined this digital petition in less than one week. Twitter and email accounts were also created for students to show their dissent.

“Freshmen and a majority of campus have meal plans, so why are they going after the last few percent?” said Stephen Paunovski, senior film and television production major, and one of the students that joined the Facebook group. "It's just to grab more money. We want to get Hofstra out of our pockets so we have a choice where we get food.”

The digital message came to life at the town hall meeting March 20, as students like Inae Rurup, a junior fine arts and geography major, and administrator on the Facebook group, attended to support their cause.

“We want to get attention and show the university that there are people opposed to this that aren’t even affected by it either. Nobody really wants this to happen,” Rurup said.

President Stuart Rabinowitz acknowledged the lack of student input in this decision at the town hall meeting. “I think we should have gotten student input before making this decision and we apologize for that," said Rabinowitz.

According to Peter Libman, Dean of Students, the three percent of students affected by this new policy accounts for a little over 90 students and approximately a quarter of those students will be graduating this year. The university reached an agreement for this policy during a recent renegotiation with Lackmann's contract, said Libman.

Lackmann listens to students to meet their needs, said Lynda O’Malley, Associate Dean of Students. There are vegan, gluten free, and kosher options on the 18 locations of dining options on campus, as well as a nutritionist that can work with students who have any allergies or special eating circumstances.

Various proposals were made between Lackmann and the university to keep the students’ best interests in mind, including an evaluation of the values of different meal plans.

“We were looking at what would have the least impact on the students,” Libman said. “It was seen that 97% of our undergraduate resident students are already on meal plans and the rates that we have for our students are based on participation. So, by insuring a certain amount of students on a plan, we are able to benefit the greater good and keep the rates down for everybody.”

Other factors were also considered in making the decision, including the limited number of cooking facilities in residence halls.

However, even students who are already residents and have meal plans at Hofstra are concerned about this issue.

I feel like although most students do voluntarily get a meal plan but for those who don't wish to purchase food on campus, whatever their reasons may be, they shouldn't have to,” Patrick Tierney, junior political science and philosophy major, said. “It could cause some students to not be able to afford Hofstra anymore.”

But the administration wants to be as transparent as possible and wants to stress that nothing is being hidden from the students in regards to this issue.

“A student might argue that they don't need a dining plan, but if they're spending any kind of significant time on campus which resident students generally are, it works out to be about $7 a day to be on the minimum plan,” said O’Malley. “Seven dollars a day isn't that much when you look at it in its entirety and it's tax free. So you put it into your cost for attendance up front, you're getting the tax-free benefit...and I'm going to know that a student living in our residence halls has food at their fingertips.”

Rurup said that $7 a day isn’t sustainable enough to last a whole day. “If I buy [the meal plan], I can’t afford to go grocery shopping where I can spend about $100 a month and have infinitely more meals.

“I feel like [the mandatory meal plan] shouldn’t be imposed on the students,” said Caitlin Spiess, senior fine arts major. “I’m neutral about the whole thing because it doesn’t affect me, but I know a lot of people on campus who do just fine and don’t need the meal plan so I support them.”

According to O’Malley, there is no formal appeal process to change this policy. Libman and O’Malley both encourage students to talk to their financial services advisor and residential staff members to discuss potential alterations in student loans and housing on campus.

"We're hoping to reach some sort of agreement with both Lackmann and the university that would benefit both sides where the students that would be most affected by this would not have to purchase a meal plan if they don't want to but where the university and Lackmann can still achieve whatever goals they had when they set out with this policy,” said Tierney.

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