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Saturday, May 25, 2024

Student government condemns controversial dining hall policy

UW-Madison’s student government has come out against a new plan that requires housing residents to spend at least $1,400 at dining halls in a year, joining other prominent campus groups including the school’s College Democrats and Working Class Student Union.

Associated Students of Madison leaders met with University Housing Director Jeff Novak Friday, but ASM put out a statement later Friday afternoon saying the group “condemns this action taken by the University” and is concerned over the lack of student input in the planning process.

“ASM’s Shared Governance Committee, which is fully comprised of students, clearly expressed discontent to [Novak] for mandatory meal plans,” the statement reads. “At the time of Novak’s presentation [to the committee Nov. 1], the idea for a mandatory meal plan was not advertised to the Committee as a serious option considered by Housing and Dining.”

Novak said in an interview with The Daily Cardinal Thursday that students were considered in the process, and that the new policy is a response to students and parents who worry about being in the dark about how much dining is expected to cost.

But forcing students to pay a set amount for food rather than making their own decisions is not the way to fix this problem, ASM leaders countered.

“For low income students, this hefty additional deposit deters the ability for students to pay for books, tuition, and other University expenses. This policy may reduce campus accessibility, forcing students to live off campus,” they wrote in the release.

Additionally, ASM representatives said they are concerned about the plan’s potential effect on students with dietary restrictions.

“The dining halls currently offer very limited halal or kosher items for students of Muslim or Jewish faith,” the statement reads. “For these items, the housing discount is not applied, which may provide further reason for students of these faiths to eat elsewhere.”

Novak pointed out that the reason the 30 percent resident discount is not applied to kosher and halal foods is because “the price is now at cost” — in other words, UW-Madison charges students and others exactly what it pays for kosher and halal items.

College Democrats of UW-Madison also released a statement Friday criticizing the plan, saying University Housing “overlooked lower-income students’ needs for their own financial gain.”

“Many students cannot afford this, and requiring a minimum deposit worsens the problem of food insecurity,” Brianna Koerth, the group’s chair, said in a statement. “Most students choose not to eat at the dining hall for all meals, and this requirement strips students of their freedom to choose.”

UW-Madison estimates the $1,400 year-long deposit covers about nine meals per week.

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Additional information about the policy change, including University Housing leaders’ responses to criticisms from students, can be found here.

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