When I was filling out paperwork for this semester over the summer, I began the annual Yalie scheme — searching for loopholes to reduce payments and opting out of fees that were not obligatory.
Several conversations I’ve had with friends, particularly about their summers, have been about how they managed to find an obscure fellowship to pay for their research or a surreptitious funding source to cover their travel costs. They sigh as their gaze drifts past me, “I got so lucky … I don’t even know how I got Yale to pay for that.”
It’s funny how the conception of Yale’s wealth literally manifests itself — pockets of money stowed away in the shadows, pouches of funding stashed in the crannies of Jonathan Edwards College’s brickwork. As cynical as it might sound, we talk about Yale’s money like it’s fleeting and wince when we don’t stumble across hidden loopholes in time.
One of those schemes my friend and I discovered was changing from the Full Meal Plan to the Any-14 Meal Plan. The word “scheme” may be a bit of a misnomer. Switching meal plans wasn’t a “stick it to the man” decision. Logistically, it just made sense. I rarely ate breakfast last year, and figured switching would be a good way to save some money. I’m now on the Any-14 Meal Plan. The problem is that I’m paying just as much as I did on the Full Meal Plan, which shouldn’t be the case.
It’s important to consider that Yale Dining may not have any other financial choice but to charge the same price for both plans. Last year, Yale Dining operated in yet another deficit, which makes lowering prices for meal plans a tricky financial game. Unfortunately, Yale Dining is no stranger to operating in financially difficult straits. Yale, for example, ran up a culinary deficit of $12,000 in 1917.
But perhaps pre-World War II data is not the best indicator of Yale Dining’s current state of affairs.
Still, Yale Dining has had a strike every decade between 1960 and 2000, and there have been a handful of Yale Dining workers’ walkouts throughout this time as well. Part of the problem is that Yale Dining is such a big employer of both New Haven residents and Yale students alike. Because so many people depend on Yale Dining financially, creating a cheaper meal plan option could create an untenable situation for dining workers.
But this is a structural limitation. For a school of Yale’s size, around three or four central dining halls would be sufficient to cater to everyone’s needs. Having 14 dining halls for 5,453 students is inefficient in more ways than one, and a main reason why cheaper meal plan options aren’t available for on campus students.
Dining halls, though, are integral to residential college life. Many students are reluctant to sacrifice their college communities for the sake of minimizing Yale Dining’s structural inefficiencies. This reluctance was the chief reason that Yale College Dean Marvin Chun’s proposal to shut down one dining hall for lunch on a rotating basis in order to extend late night dining hours failed just last year.
And so it’s easy to feel stuck in a kind of intractable middle ground — pulled both by sympathy for Yale Dining and the residential college system to which it contributes and by the desire for cheaper meal plan options.
This is one of the central reasons so many Yalies move off campus (more than 17 percent of students did last year), largely because Yale Dining provides two reduced meal plan options for off-campus students. This allows off-campus students to save thousands of dollars while still engaging with their residential college communities through the dining hall system.
While reform to meal plan pricing may be infeasible in the short term, we shouldn’t shy away from taking on dining reform. Ultimately, meaningful reform comes with sacrifice. We could, for instance, opt for a trial run of Chun’s proposal to close a couple of dining halls for lunch on a rotating basis. What’s clear is that inaction is not ideal. Without some kind of meal plan financial alternative for on campus students, the incentives for Yalies to move off campus will continue to grow, hurting our residential college system more than any dining hall could help it.
Sammy Landino is a sophomore in Hopper College. His column runs on alternate Thursdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .