As part of a joint collaboration between the Illinois Tech Residence Hall Association (RHA) and Student Government Association (SGA), the Food Advisory Board (FAB) exists as an official advocacy platform through which Illinois Tech students can communicate any complaints, issues, or suggestions regarding all dining options available on campus. FAB met for the first time in the spring 2019 semester on the morning of Wednesday, February 13, 2019 with representatives from Illinois Tech Culinary and Hospitality Services (Chartwells), RHA, SGA, and TechNews in attendance.
Unlike many prior FAB meetings, which primarily revolved issues of food quality and variety, this particular meeting was more logistical in nature, with discussion centering around a number of administrative changes that have been made to the overall state of campus dining. More specifically, RHA Senator Arkansh Singh and SGA Vice President of Student Life Lin Abu-Amara asked for clarification on both changes to student meal plans for the 2019-2020 school year and recent reductions in the service hours of Center Court, a retail dining location in the MTCC.
Under the current meal plan system for 2018-2019, students that live on campus are required to have either one of the two Unlimited Plans (offering unlimited visits to the Commons) or the Scarlet 230 (offering 230 visits to the Commons per semester). In addition, students that live on campus and have access to an in-unit kitchen (available in Carman Hall, Gunsaulus Hall, and State Street Village [SSV] South) can choose from those three plans or from the Gray 150 (offering 150 visits to the Commons per semester) or Talon 50 (offering 50 visits to the Commons per semester). In addition, all of these plans offer varying amounts of Bonus Points and Meal Exchanges, usable at Illinois Tech retail dining locations, such as Center Court, and commuter students, while not required, can also purchase a meal plan.
However, the new meal plan system for the 2019-2020 school year would change the status quo of this current meal plan environment. The official documentation published by the Illinois Tech Office of Residence Life states that all first-year undergraduate students will now be required to have the Hawk Unlimited meal plan (unlimited visits to the Commons). All other undergraduate students living on campus must choose either the Hawk Unlimited or the Scarlet 230, and students with in-unit kitchens can still choose the Gray 150 but not the Talon 50.
The perceived result of this change in meal plan options and requirements is an upward shift in price for students as many are now being locked into more expensive meal plans than they would otherwise (with first-year students being locked in to the Hawk Unlimited and students with in-unit kitchens losing access to the Talon 50). When asked about the reasoning behind these changes, Asa Brown, Director of Residential Dining, simply stated that such decisions happen at a university and corporate level and are thus beyond his purview. FAB is expecting a more official response from Illinois Tech Culinary and Hospitality Services, and TechNews will also provide updates as they are received.
The second major matter discussed at this FAB meeting was the matter of recent changes to the service hours of several retail dining locations. Specifically, Center Court was changed to now only be open Monday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., potentially cutting off dinner access at the location for many students. Under the prior dining service provider until fall 2018, Sodexo, Center Court was notably open until 11 p.m. on Mondays through Thursdays. Thus, this change came as a shock to many students who were used to this location’s previously flexible hours. Brown stated that these changes in hours were most likely based on analyses of customer participation. Simply put, Center Court did not see enough customer traffic after 5 p.m. to justify remaining open. However, once again, FAB will await more substantial answers from Illinois Tech Culinary and Hospitality Services, and TechNews will also provide updates as appropriate.
Aside from these two administrative concerns, the other matters discussed at this FAB meeting included the possible expansion of healthier food options at the Bog (which Brown stated he would “definitely look into"), supply issues both in Center Court and the ice cream station in the Commons (which will also be looked into), and several updates from Illinois Tech Culinary and Hospitality Services (including positive reception of the Teaching Kitchen series and plans for renovations to the Commons in the summer of 2019).
It should be noted that while matters such as meal plan changes and the open hours of Center Court carry the atmosphere of being administrative decisions made behind closed doors, out of reach of students, FAB represents a vital avenue through which student voice can be leveraged into playing a shaping role in these decisions. If any of the items discussed in this article strike you as unsatisfactory or if you have other concerns or suggestions to improve the on-campus dining experience, the next FAB meeting is currently planned for Wednesday, February 27, 2019 at 9 a.m. in the Pritzker Club in the MTCC. In addition, discussion items can be sent to FAB by contacting Singh at [email protected]