Meal Plan Changes Reverted Following Student Backlash
This semester’s controversial new Dining Plan is being restructured over the weekend after several weeks of student outcry. In an email sent out to the student body on Nov. 27, Dean of Students Chaim Nissel announced that the changes will be “retroactive to the beginning of the current semester and both the membership fee and the discounts received, will be reversed.” Students have already begun to notice their balances updated to reflect the change.
In his email, Nissel acknowledged that “the current meal plan is not working for many students” and announced that the administration “decided to revert to the debit system we had in place last year, with the full value of a student’s dining card available for direct purchases in the cafeterias and caf-stores.” As of this weekend, the $675 membership fee for the semester will be redeposited into students’ accounts. In addition, the funds students have saved thus far with the 40% discount will be deducted from their updated balances. Going forward, there will no longer be a 40% discount on items in the cafeteria, but all students will see an increase in their balance after these changes are implemented due to the reimbursed membership fees. Students will be notified of their updated balances via email next week.
The most recent update to the Dining Plan comes after several student-led initiatives protesting the new plan, where many complained that the plan lacked transparency and was taking a toll on their finances. In response to student backlash, “info sessions” were held on both campuses at which university representatives responded to student concerns and discussed possible changes to the plan that would meet students’ needs.
Following the info sessions, several students, chosen by Resident Advisors and student leaders, were invited to participate in a small focus group on Nov. 26 with Nissel, Chief Facilities and Administrative Officer Randy Apfelbaum and Beren Director of Housing Rachel Kraut to discuss the possibility of reversing the controversial changes this year, essentially reverting to last year’s Dining Plan structure. Both “in-towners” and “out-of-towners” were invited to participate in the focus group, which was held on Beren Campus, to ensure that the students represented the different needs of the two groups on campus. According to Apfelbaum, students at the focus group “unanimously voted to go back to last year’s system.”
“At that point,” explained Apfelbaum, “we made the decision to follow the students’ voice.”
With this reversal, students on the Reduced Plan who currently have no “Dining Dollars” left on their meal plan (not including “Flex Dollars”) will be credited approximately $225 to their Caf Cards. This is because these students will be credited the $675 membership fee they were charged at the beginning of the semester but will be charged the difference between the discounted and full prices of all food they had purchased. As Apfelbaum stated at the focus group, “Depending on where you are in your spending, you are either going to get a lot of money back or a little less money back, but everyone is going to see money back.” Apfelbaum and Nissel also emphasized that neither the $1,500 Reduced Plan nor $1,750 Standard Plan provides students with enough money to eat three meals a day for 15 weeks (the length of a semester) without adding any additional funds.
According to university officials at the info sessions, the new plan this semester was originally introduced in response to students’ complaints last year regarding money which was not used up by the end of the semester. Small focus groups were held at the time, and students in those groups indicated that they preferred the new plan to the system in place last year. Additionally, university officials maintained that this semester’s plan was preferable because it allowed students greater value when adding money once they had run out. “The initial focus group participants felt that the change in plan would be beneficial to students, so that they could add money as needed,” explained Apfelbaum. “However, once the plan was implemented feedback from students was overwhelming that they preferred last year’s plan.”
Sara Leah Zans (SCW ‘20), who participated in the Nov. 26 focus group, remarked, “I’m happy they’re resorting back to the previous meal plan. But I still think there are a lot of issues that need to be resolved, and there needs to be a committee for this that is listening to the students on a regular basis. Food isn’t something that should be a luxury; it’s a necessity, and we need a fair plan that pays for what we are buying.”
Akiva Poppers (SSSB ‘22), a vocal participant in the Wilf info session, said, “I am extremely satisfied with the decision to change the caf plan.” Poppers also expressed his gratitude to the people who contributed to the major change in the meal plan. “I am impressed with the abilities of the YU administration to address these problems,” he said.
Some students who added funds to their Caf Card were upset as they felt that they may have done so unnecessarily. Naama Schwartz (SCW ‘21), a Jewish Education major who had refilled her caf balance prior to Nissel’s email, commented, “I hope and expect that YU offers to refund money already refilled before Dean Nissel's email concerning the recent changes to the new meal plan. Students were beginning to become concerned with their low balances so there was no choice but to refill.” When reached for comment, Apfelbaum maintained that “only a small number of students have added money to their caf cards. This money can be rolled over to next semester.”
Apfelbaum declined to comment on the impact this change will have on the university’s finances.
Photo Caption: Now-defunct meal plan prices
Photo Credit: Yeshiva University