Students agitated over dining hours change
After a long day of classes during the first week of school, Yessid Ceballos tried to go into the Busch Dining Hall one night at 8:05 p.m. and was told it was closed.
Ceballos, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said he was told the dining hall hours had been changed this year, and all the halls would be closing at 8 p.m. every day.
“My friends and I were told the halls closed at eight. The decision had come from higher ups,” he said. “We weren’t given a straight answer.”
On his way back to his room, Ceballos said he stopped people who were looking to go into the dining halls to inform them that the hall was closed.
“With the cost increase of the meal plans this year, this was a really bad choice,” he said. “Last semester I would get out of class at 8:40 [p.m.] and get dinner afterwards.”
Taking matters into his own hands, Ceballos has turned to social media to try and restore the dining hall hours. He started a petition on Change.org to encourage students to tell dining services how they feel about the change in hours.
Joseph Charette, executive director of Dining Services, said the change was necessary this semester. Costs have risen, and students have voiced their opinion that they did not want to see a tuition increase.
“So we had to figure out a way to keep costs for the students down, without sacrificing the quality of our products,” he said. “We could have changed brands from Cheerios to Henry’s O’s, or some other off-brand, but we did not want to do that. We are food people and we want to give the best.”
Students are facing financial hardships in all aspects of life, Charette said. The stories are all similar, they are struggling to make ends meet and some sacrifices had to be made. They can’t buy a meal plan, opting to buy books and supplies instead.
The student’s message to the University came in loud and clear, he said. However, funding for dining services was cut, as was funding for most departments this year.
“Our costs increased, but our funding barely did. Our labor costs increased by 5.5 percent. The cost of raw foods, items like milk, eggs, meat, are up 8 percent,” he said. “We also had utilities increase around 5 to 9 percent. The board only granted us a 2 percent increase to our budget.”
The cost increases are not being covered by the board allowance, and Charette said the lost revenue needed to come from somewhere. Unlike other University areas, the state does not fund specific departments like Residence Life and Dining Services.
“Keep in mind, dining services are an auxiliary service. 100 percent of our expenses come from our income. We pay our own expenses,” he said. “There was a huge deficit, so something had to give.”
Cutting one hour from all four dining halls, for two semesters, will save Dining Services roughly $150,000, Charette said. While the halls close at 8 p.m., and students don’t have the all-you-can-eat buffet option, take-out is open until midnight at all halls.
Although he acknowledges the take-out option, Ceballos said it doesn’t substitute for a healthy meal.
“The take-out options are unhealthy, and not something I would want to eat every day,” he said. “This time change is forcing students with late classes to eat only take-out.”
Charette disagrees, saying that healthy options are available for take-out, and the students have chosen the late night menus based on buying habits.
“The featured items may not be healthy, and [Ceballos is] right, but they are the most popular,” he said. “Every time you buy an item, you are voting for it. We have to appeal to the masses. But [there are] healthy options available, students just need to go and look.”
All of the dining halls on the separate campuses have different take out options, Charette said. Another option is to go and eat before your late classes, at 4 p.m. or 5 p.m.
Reactions to the hour change in times sparked outrage from students who feel the hours should have remained the same. Michelle Phan, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, signed the petition and said she feels it is unfair to the students.
“Closing the dining hall at [8 p.m.] not only rips off students who pay thousands of dollars just to eat on campus, but it also makes it nearly impossible for students who have night classes to eat dinner in a timely manner,” she said.
Along with take out, Charette said there are meal equivalencies such as the Douglass Café and the shops on Livingston that students can look to for dinner.
The idea to close the dining halls one hour early was not one that Dining Services came to easily. A few years ago, the dining halls used to close around 7 p.m., so Charette said 8 p.m. is still not a bad option.
“We considered all options. We thought about cutting back staff, and even eliminating special events like King Neptune Night,” he said. “But we realized it was too popular of a night. We still have alumni come back asking about it. It means a lot to the students, and its something people will always remember.”
At the time of publication, the petition on change.org had 1,537 signatures.