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USG presses administrators for dining pilot details

<h5>Charter Club, one of the 11 eating clubs on Prospect Ave.&nbsp;</h5>
<h6>Candace Do / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Charter Club, one of the 11 eating clubs on Prospect Ave. 
Candace Do / The Daily Princetonian

The Undergraduate Student Government (USG) sent a formal request to University administrators on Friday, Oct. 14, requesting an official release of information about the proposed dining pilot for the Spring 2023 semester. 

The pilot, which would give a test group of juniors and seniors five free meal swipes per week to use at any dining hall, eating club, or co-op, has received criticism from multiple stakeholders — including leaders from USG, co-ops, and the Interclub Council (ICC). Additionally, a USG survey on the program revealed that of the 96 students who agreed to have their reactions shared, 74 percent had mostly negative feedback on the current iteration of the plan, while 11 percent had mixed opinions, and 15 percent were mostly positive.

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USG’s formal request, which was also sent to undergraduate students via email, asserted that the “lack of official information [about the pilot] has perpetuated confusion and prevented informed discussion among the undergraduate student body.” 

The student governing body requested that the University release details of the pilot, “including financial and logistical details as they relate to eating clubs and co-ops,” no later than the week of Monday, Oct. 24. According to the email, USG voted unanimously to issue this request.

The Daily Princetonian first broke the news of the planned pilot program on Sept. 22. Since then, USG has solicited feedback on it, including through a student assembly on Oct. 6, which was attended by around 20 students.

In an opinion column in the ‘Prince’ on Oct. 13, several University administrators cited reports from past accessibility task forces that identified “fluidity” as a key area for improvement in the upperclass dining experience — and noted that the dining pilot would be a way of “testing ideas in real time.”

“This principle is particularly relevant today, with the shift to four-year residential colleges, an expanding student body, and the decoupling of housing and dining for juniors and seniors,” the column reads. “The pilot is meant to help us determine what will and will not work before moving forward with any changes to the current program.”

According to USG President Mayu Takeuchi ’23, student perspectives and the recommendations of past task force reports do not seem to be reflected in the current iteration of the pilot proposal.

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“The concerns … [and] ideas that students have been bringing forward, they have not yet meaningfully shaped the pilot as it stands, and broader discussions of dining program changes,” Takeuchi said.

As one example, Takeuchi noted that many students would support the expansion of the meal exchange program. 

“That [2014-2015] report does address the accessibility of eating clubs and lists a bunch of recommendations — one of those is extending the meal exchange to independent students, which is something that students do genuinely want to see,” she told the ‘Prince,’ referencing an Eating Club Accessibility Report conducted by USG in 2014–2015, which the administrators also referred to in their column.

“But clearly,” Takeuchi continued, an expansion of meal exchange “has not been implemented in policy. And there don’t seem to be any immediate reasons why it shouldn’t be implemented or why that would be logistically challenging.”

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The University has not made any official statement or publicly announced a complete version of the pilot program or any changes to be made to the current dining plan.

USG’s formal request for more information about the pilot program was addressed to Vice President for Campus Life Rochelle Calhoun, Vice President for University Services Chad Klausm, Executive Director for Planning and Administration Christopher Burkmar ’00, and Executive Director for Finance and Technology Administration Maureen McWhirter.

At the USG-led student assembly, students in eating clubs and co-ops expressed concerns about the increased costs and crowds that could come with an at-large implementation of the plan following the pilot phase.

University administrators pushed back against this concern, writing in the column that “students will not incur any costs for participating in the pilot, and it has not been determined what, if any, costs students would incur in the final program.”

In its initial coverage of the dining pilot, the ‘Prince’ had reported that the plan could come with a potential hike in cost of attendance by $1,500 if the plan was implemented, according to an individual familiar with the discussions.

According to members of the dining pilot’s working group, all of its members are current seniors, and the pilot is currently slated to go into effect during the spring of 2023. (These working group members were granted anonymity by the ‘Prince’ due to the confidential nature of the group’s work.) Thus, any current students working on the program would graduate at the same time the pilot program concludes.

But that may change soon. Per the Oct. 14 email to undergraduates, USG “has successfully advocated for first year, sophomore, and junior representatives to be included in the [dining pilot] working group” and is currently seeking applicants.

In the eyes of one of the working group members, student perspectives have been excluded throughout the process of formulating this plan.

“Whether or not it was intentional,” the working group member told the ‘Prince,’ “the working group has been formulated to exclude student perspectives in the evaluation of the pilot. So that, in conjunction with the fact that there has been no official release of information about the pilot … it feels like students have been intentionally excluded from this process. And that’s concerning.”

University Spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss deferred comment for this story to the Oct. 13 letter from administrators.

Correction: This article was corrected to reflect that the formal request from USG asks for information from the University by the week of Oct. 24, rather than that day.

Hope Perry is a junior from New Jersey, the Head Podcast Editor and News staff writer at the ‘Prince’ who covers USG and student activism. She can be reached at hperry@princeton.edu or on Twitter @hopemperry.

Annie Rupertus is a sophomore from Philadelphia, an Assistant Data Editor, and a News staff writer who covers USG for the ‘Prince.’ She can be reached at arupertus@princeton.edu or @annierupertus on Instagram and Twitter.

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