Dining Services has a "Big Idea."
Representatives from UT administration and executives of campus food service provider Aramark attended Tuesday's Student Government Association assembly to brief students on proposed amendments to the current meal plan system.
Following an October meeting between an SGA committee and dining services, Senior Associate Vice-Chancellor of Finance and Administration Jeff Maples presented UT's proposal to the Student Senate with the goal of gauging student response.
"(The) First group we talked to were devastated," Maples said. "I don't want to say devastated: surprised."
Blake Roller, a junior in journalism and electronic media, participated in the conference and said that the student group was eventually able to see the proposal in a different light.
"The benefits of actually initiating this mandatory $300 meal plan per semester outweighed the cons of not going through with it," Roller said. "We were initially shocked, but in the end we kind of came to a subtle agreement that this would be OK at some point and in some ways that we could work through."
The revenue generated from meal plan purchases is intended to subsidize the costs of UT's current and future construction projects, many of which would not be possible without financial contributions from Aramark.
"Basically, if they wanted to, they could pull their money from the new student union and we would have a huge hole," Roller said.
When broken down over a 16-week semester, the proposed amount of $300 averages $18.75 per week. When viewed on a daily basis, the plan allows $3.75 per day for a 5-day week.
Proponents of the mandate claim that students are spending that much or more on campus even without a meal plan.
"You're buying food that you're buying anyway," Maples said.
Any Dining Dollars left after the spring semester would be funneled into the student's All-Star account. At the end of the academic year, these funds can translate into a refund from the university.
Following the presentation of UT's proposed changes, the floor was opened to questions and feedback from students. Many comments centered on the logistics involved with implementing a program like the suggested mandate.
"Currently the proposed plan does not exempt Greek students who are already required to buy meal plans, which presents a major concern," said Paige Atchley, SGA vice-president and a senior in marketing.
There are no final decisions on how dining services would handle students already enrolled in other meal plans.
Some student senators expressed concern that Aramark's prices in on-campus locations are exorbitant, arguing that students might prefer to avoid locations like P.O.D. markets.
Aramark Vice-President of Operations Tim Vandermeersch denied allegations of price-gouging, and defended his company's attempt to provide items to students at fair market value.
"We're not Walmart," Vandermeersch said. "We're a convenience store."
Senators also voiced the opinion that requiring students to invest money in Dining Dollars pushes them to buy provisions from an Aramark location, rather than an outlet unrelated to the university.
"That's one way of looking at it," Maples responded.
Details of how the mandatory meal plan would be implemented have not been finalized. However, the university-wide policy will potentially begin with the class of 2017.
The administration hopes to make a decision regarding the proposal by Dec. 1, 2013.
Because the proposal is recognized as a change in university policy, it will not be subjected to a vote by SGA.
Roller expressed doubts regarding the response of the student body to the proposed changes.
"It took two and a half hours for about four of our students to actually sit there and take the time, listening to the top executives explain it," Roller said. "Honestly, I don't feel that all of the student body will ever fully understand it, nor will they ever want to fully understand it."