As you may have heard, Barnard officially announced required meal plans for all students starting next semester year.  Initial support for the measure seemed low, so we went on a hunt to find students who were excited about it. We searched high and low, but found not one student willing to praise the plan. What we heard instead:

  • Embry Owen, BC ’12 — “[W]hy was the larger Barnard community not asked for their input? This lack of transparency is unacceptable.”
  • Cait Levin, BC ’12 — “I doubt that Financial Aid will be taking the higher cost of meal plans and points into consideration when evaluating student need.”
  • Victoria Steffes, BC ’12 — “The 800 points that will be required for sophomores is absolutely outrageous. … There is no way they will be able to go through 800 points unless they are giving away their food to the homeless.”
  • Katie Palillo, BC ’10 SGA President — “We’re currently in discussion with the administration on how this will affect students…in an effort to make sure the administration is considering all facets of the discussion.”
  • Anna Scaife, BC ’11 — “There may be a wider variety of options available at the Diana, but that doesn’t negate the objections of students who do not wish to eat there.”

No luck there.  Owen has created a Facebook group against the new meal plan and, as of posting, it had 331 members.

Most students’ complaints are about the lack of transparency in the decision process.  Columbia has recently announced changes coming to its dining operations but has clearly stated that the purpose is to keep locations such as Ferris Booth open.  However, Dean Denburg’s email merely suggested that the decision was made to “build community,” a claim that rang false to many commenters.  Here’s what they had to say:

  • “The very least they can do is be honest about it.”
  • “If you want to pay $2.25 for a cup of coffee, go for it Dean Denburg.  Don’t make me do it.”
  • “The tone of the email outraged and insulted me.”
  • “There may be a wider variety of options available at the Diana, but that doesn’t negate the objections of students who do not wish to eat there.”
  • “I don’t think that people here are angry about having a new student center to eat in… [but] the fact that we’re going to have no choice BUT to eat in that student center.”
  • “Everyone can agree that on-campus food is generally overpriced.”

No one we spoke to was in favor of the plan, but a few commenters tried to be reasonable:

  • “If you don’t like what the students [leadership involved with the decision] decided, then…maybe you should vote in SGA elections.”
  • “Many peer institutions have required meal plans for all four years, so this isn’t the craziest idea in the world.”
  • “The administration should have shown us more respect and explained the reasoning behind this decision … [but] there’s no need to make broad generalizations about the entire college based on one decision. The administration will have to respond to the outcry, and hopefully we will have more answers soon.”

Even for students who understand that Barnard needs to find a way to cover budget shortfalls, most are upset that this was not explained to them clearly.  They see the “community” line as a euphemism to cover for decisions that lack an agreeable explanation, and they want the Barnard administration to be more forthcoming about the reasoning for this new plan.