SGI says it wasn't informed of the policy change beforehand
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Student Government Inc. is responsible for representing and advocating on behalf of the students at St. John’s. But when a policy change mandating townhouse students purchase a meal plan starting in fall 2017 was announced to students last month, the group said they weren’t informed beforehand.
Scott Lemperle, executive director of Conference and Auxiliary Services, told the Torch that a majority of townhouse residents—approximately 65 percent—are already on a meal plan. But that number wasn’t the only contributing factor to the change in policy, he said.
“We know that just a large majority of the students are already on the meal plans,” Lemperle said. “And yes, we get a lot of feedback from the students and student government as we meet monthly and meal plan discussions come up.”
However, according to SGI Secretary Frank Obermeyer, student government was not informed of the change until it was made public. He said that the group has since received numerous student complaints.
“Many students feel that the change is too sudden, and that [their] experience was not taken into account when making this decision,” Obermeyer told the Torch in an email.
At SGI’s floor meeting this past Monday, Obermeyer said that members of SGI would be meeting with University administration soon to discuss the change. A date for the meeting has not been set yet.
The new policy, which requires all townhouse students to purchase a resident student meal plan, came as a surprise to many when an announcement landed in the inboxes of St. John’s students in February. However, some students said they had no idea that the change was taking place until the Torch reported on it in the Feb. 22 issue. Others said they only heard through word of mouth.
“I think it should have been more widely spread,” Courtney Clark, a junior at St. John’s, said. “Or, possibly given students [the opportunity] to take a survey of what they prefer before implementing it.”
Eric Finkelstein, director of Residence Life, said that the announcement was sent via email through the University’s student affairs email account. Information on the policy can also be found in the Housing Selection guide for 2017-18.
The email was sent to all St. John’s students on Feb. 8 — nearly one month after the University began accepting housing deposits for the upcoming school year.
Lemperle told the Torch in February that the dining contract with the food vendor Chartwells has been renegotiated for the upcoming academic year. In an interview with the Torch, Lemperle said the contract hasn’t been changed in about three or four years.
Sophomore Jacob Dibble, who is part of ROTC, said he felt the school should have been more up-front about the meal plan policy being part of a contract negotiation with Chartwells.
“My thoughts are that it’s totally ridiculous,” he said. “It goes against the school’s values of integrity and excellence, as it [the change] is neither.”
The meal plan also drew ire from some who say that the kitchens in each townhouse suite are used by students who elect to not take a meal plan.
“We’re paying more to live in the townhouses and in return get a kitchen, so I don’t think people should be forced to spend more money on a meal plan if they won’t even use it,” senior Danielle Killwey said.
Killwey is in a five-year program and said that she’ll continue to live in the townhouses next year. She said she’d still get a meal plan if it wasn’t mandatory, but doesn’t think her peers should be forced to do so.
“I don’t agree with it being mandatory because I know some people prefer to cook for themselves and wouldn’t use the meal plan,” Killwey said.
When asked whether the kitchens are factored into the price of the townhouses, Finkelstein said, “The meal plan and the room are priced separately, that’s intentional. Each of those facilities are priced at a certain level and as the university makes decisions about tuition and room and board from year to year, those are incrementally adjusted.”
The Torch asked if room prices would be decreased because of the new meal plan, but a definitive answer was not offered.
“There’s different amenities, different access, different square footage that play into the pricing,” Finkelstein said.
For students who don’t wish to purchase a meal plan, Finkelstein added that there is the option of SJU’s off-campus properties—the Henley, Goethals and Seton housing complexes, for undergraduate students.
But rooms in these complexes are almost as expensive as living in an on-campus dorm.
“Before, I was going to go [to the] townhouses, but since the new plan [was announced] I am going to live in Goethals instead and am going to ditch the meal plan,” Dibble, the ROTC student, told the Torch.
Dibble receives a grant from the school for ROTC cadets that pays for his room, but not his board.
“I should have a right to choose where I eat,” he said. “And the school, as a school of ‘excellence,’ should be able to provide housing while maintaining that right.”
Some students feel frustration toward the mandatory meal plans, while others feel that they aren’t getting the full value out of them.
Clark said she has the 10 swipe/300 points meal plan this year, but said she never ends up using all her swipes.
“With a kitchen in the townhouses, I don’t think it’s necessary to have a meal plan,” she said. “It’s a great option if you know you won’t be cooking every night, but I was thinking about not getting one next year because I see how much money I can save, especially if I don’t find myself using the full value of my meal plan.”
Lemperle said that for the plans that aren’t unlimited, meals don’t roll over. He said the points make up for that, though.
When asked if the school would consider formulating new meal plans in the future, Lemperle said, “We had those discussions with student government, who make recommendations for meal plans and if there’s a way to develop something differently, we’d be open to it.”
The last time an on-campus meal plan was added was about five years ago, Lemperle said. This was the 14-meal plan, which he said was designed based on student feedback.
“I think we did get to a really good place where we’re at with a balance where there hasn’t been any requests for changes,” he said. “We have a good flexibility in between the four that we do have.”
As for meal plans being mandatory, Finkelstein said it guarantees that St. John’s students are getting at least one nutritious meal per day.
Still, students remain bothered that the University did not seek student feedback on the policy change. In response, SGI says it’s committed to ensuring that students’ voices are heard.
“SGI hopes to be consulted with regard to any potential change that affects students,” Obermeyer said. “We look forward to meeting with administration to find out how this decision was made.”
Bryant Rodriguez contributed to this report.