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Ethan Tobias '12: Another fair contract

Last Thursday morning, I approached the Ratty with dread, worrying that those doors would be clamped shut. There had been a serious threat that dining services workers might strike leaving students unfed. Luckily, contract negotiators had reached a settlement the night before and my growling stomach was soon alleviated. The experience showed me how important it was for Brown Dining Services workers to receive a fair contract from Dining Services. Now it is time that students receive that same fair treatment.

The meal plan options on campus are so convoluted that no one quite understands how they work. Many people can only frown in consternation as they try to figure out which one is best for them. Navigating the many meal plan options can often be harder than trying to find items at the Gate that add up to $6. 

Is the flexibility of flex plans better, or is the certainty that comes with three meals a day? Which flex plan is the right amount? What's hidden in the Kosher/Halal room? These are just some of the questions that confound the average Brown student. And the answers are not so simple.

With the standard 20-meal-a-week plan, one wonders why only three meals can be used per day. Presumably, this is built in to prevent students from using up all their credits, ensuring that by Thursday (which BDS considers the end of the week) they will still have at least two meals. 

However, this logic cannot explain the other meal plans. On the 14-meal-a-week plan, students can also eat three meals per day, which means students could run out of food by Tuesday evening. The flex plans have no limits at all. If running out of food on Thursday were really a travesty, then running out of food for the month of May is completely unacceptable.

So why is it that students on the 20-meal-a-week plan cannot be trusted to budget their credits, while students on other plans are given more freedom?

The answer, I suspect, comes down to money. When a student on the 20-meal-a-week plan uses fewer than three meal credits in a day, those additional meals are lost forever. And BDS counts on this occurrence. The average student on the 20-meal-a-week plan cannot be expected to remember to go to Josiah's or the Gate and cash in those extra credits every night. Inevitably, some meals fall through the cracks.

And even the most diligent student would still fail to recoup all of his prepaid money.  It is nearly impossible to come up with combinations that hit exactly six dollars at the late night eateries. On a large scale, the loss of a few dollars and cents per meal credit means tons of savings for dining services.

The issue with the system is twofold. On the one hand, it causes students to buy food they do not really want to eat in their attempts to hit exactly $6. This is a waste for dining services and bad for students' health. On the other hand, the current system severely restricts the freedom of students to eat wherever and whenever they want for the sole purpose of ripping them off. 

In the midst of all this perplexity, there already exists a simple easy solution: flex points. Flex points are ideal because they can be used anytime, anywhere and in any quantity.
An optimum meal plan for students would be one that is solely flex points. Students could use six points every time they choose to eat at one of the dining halls or use points at any  eateries on campus.

The only problem with this solution is that students will try to use up all of their points, reducing BDS's savings. However, this does not have to be the case. The system could be set up in such a way that the total number of points allotted to students would factor in some of the lost savings. This is already the case with existing flex plans.

Additionally, students could be allowed to donate a percent of unused points at the end of the semester to charities. If I knew 25 percent of my unused points went to the charity of my choice, I might reconsider buying food I was not sure I really wanted in the first place

A flex-points-only system would benefit students immensely. Figuring out meal plans at the start of each year would be as simple as figuring out how many points you want. Pay more money and you get more points. All plans could be easily customized to serve students' dietary needs.

Workers got their chance at a fair deal — it is time students demand the same.

Ethan Tobias '12 would like to eat Blue Room muffins for breakfast. He can be reached at Ethan_Tobias@brown.edu




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