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Is SmartChoice Dumb?

So goes the name of Dartmouth’s new dining plan to be used at the renovated Class of 1953 Commons. Someone in the student body seems to think SmartChoice is a poor choice. Students received the following message this afternoon:

Under DDS’s new “SmartChoice” dining plans, you’re going to have to spend your money this way:

SmartChoice20 for $1658: $7.92 per meal
SmartChoice14 for $1575: $10.36 per meal
SmartChoice10 for $1440: $13.15 per meal
SmartChoice5 for $875: $15 per meal

That’s right. Want less food, pay more money.

You won’t be able to use your meals at Collis and the Hop, except on “meal equivalents” that the managers will choose.

Oh, and you’ll only have $125 to spend outside of meals at FoCo. That’s $.56 per day.

Not happy about this? Come protest today at 5:30 in FoCo’s lobby. David Newlove, the DDS director, will be there waiting to hear from you. Tell him what you think.

I haven’t had enough time to think through the specifics of the new dining policy. The costs are known (such as the high prices for smaller eaters) while the benefits are not (we don’t know how good the new ‘53 Commons food quality and variety will be). So I cannot offer my verdict, yet. But we know the winners and losers. The winners are big eaters; varsity athletes come to mind. If you regularly eat big meals through Dartmouth dining, SmartChoice20 saves you a lot of money. The losers are small eaters and freshmen. Small eaters will pay $875/term (the size of my current DDS dining plan) with SmartChoice5 and pay nearly twice the cost per meal that they used to. Freshmen will all be signed up automatically for SmartChoice20; I predict that few will eat their money’s worth, but all will certainly provide a lot of revenue for Dartmouth Dining Services.

For everyone else, it is a mixed bag and the success of the plan will largely be measured by what kind of quality Dartmouth students receive at such a high cost. For $10.14/meal on the SmartChoice14 plan, which is where I suspect the College is targeting most upperclassmen, I would certainly be expecting a lot. The irony in all of this is that SmartChoice sharply limits choice: where you can eat, how much you must spend, etc. As long as DDS maintains its choice-less monopoly on College student dollars with mandatory-minimum plans and limited rollover of dining dollars, it will engender student skepticism and disappointment.

Addendum: A student — not the author of the above-quoted campus-wide mailing — has written in:

Discontent with the “Smart”Choice plan seems near-universal among women (and pretty widespread among men, too), for some very legitimate reasons. Since alums (at least wealthy ones) seem to have more influence with the administration than actual students, I would appreciate a link!

She points us to a site containing a series of student comments critical of the administration’s latest gaffe.

Note (from Joe Asch): I should gently correct our correspondent away from her notion that alumni have more influence over the administration and Trustees than do students. In fact, the little clique of administrators and MBA Trustees who run the College listen to nobody but themselves.

Also, I expect that I am not alone in noticing that the new dining plan was announced simultaneously with the news that Conan O’Brien will be our Commencement speaker. Parkhurst is clever like that.

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