By Mansoor Khan
Students have been disgruntled about campus food prices for quite some time. With the protests of last semester and the ever-growing cost of campus food, there has been considerable controversy surrounding the issue of campus dining and meal plans.
Stony Brook’s Faculty Student Association (FSA) is responsible for a number of important campus organizations, including Computer Corner, the bookstore, Seawolves Market Place and most notably, Campus Dining. The FSA, which is a nonprofit organization, is responsible for food prices, meal plan structure, and dining facilities throughout the university. Statesman received a copy of the FSA’s budget plan for the fiscal year of 2003,which has a number of items and concerns regarding campus dining.
The projected net revenue for West Campus Dining this year is $522,269, the highest of all FSA operations. Compare this to facilities like Seawolves Marketplace, Computer Corner, and the amusement arcade, whose losses are projected at $110,110, $118,714 and $29,975 respectively.
It looks to me like we pay more for food so that the FSA can pay for all of its other services,’said junior Nathan Pangburn. ‘I don’t think that’s fair.’
‘Fairness is ultimately a debatable point,’ said Kevin Kelly, the Executive Director of the FSA. ‘We consider if anything is a legitimate expense. Students will always somehow benefit from other campus services.’ Kelly argues that all facilities of the FSA are a necessary part of the students’ needs at Stony Brook.
‘You have to consider that when the economy is bad some things just aren’t absolutely necessary,’ sophomore Paul Conrad said. ‘We need to eat, but we don’t need to play games in the arcade.’
In the fiscal year of 2001, the FSA took in $130,775 from unused declining balance, money that students lost from their meal plans because they did not make their resident point deadlines.
‘I think that it’s unnecessary for students to just lose that much money,’ Pangburn said. ‘The FSA should get rid of the unused declining balance.’
But Kelly said the FSA is working to ensure that the leftover funds are put toward student programs.
‘We try to get that money back to the students by funding programs like Midnight Breakfast,’ Kelly explained. ‘It is better than other universities on a traditional meal plan system, where the missed meal factor is up to over 50 percent.’
Many universities operate on a meals-per-week plan, where students have a certain number of all-you-can-eat meals each week. If a student does not consume all 10 or 14 meals allotted by the end of a certain period, he or she loses them for good.
‘I could definitely see [missing half of the meals],’ said Aazaz Haq, a student at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. ‘Here in Michigan, a lot of people often have six or seven out of their thirteen meals left over at the end of the week, and these meals go to waste.’
Many students also feel that food prices on campus are unnecessarily high. ‘Everything is so much more expensive than at a grocery store like Waldbaums,’ said Stony Brook freshman Amil Bachan.
‘It’s a different service,’ Kelly responded. ‘Price Club is less expensive that Waldbaums, and Waldbaums is less expensive than campus. We don’t have the buying power that supermarkets do.’
The FSA meal plan committee, comprised mostly of Stony Brook students, sets prices of new foods being offered on campus. ‘We look at demand and the supplier’s prices, and try to strike a fair price,’ said freshman Brandon Gray, a member of the committee. ‘Places like Waldbaums sell products like milk at a loss, but they make it up on other products. We can’t afford that.’
The price of the meal plan increased in 2003 as well, with $30 additional Campus Points and a $10 increase in the Activation Free. According to the Budget Plan, these results reflect an overall increase of two percent, which provides for an inflationary increase of three percent in the cost of food, labor and supplies.
The FSA is also investing money into new projects for dining facility renovations. ‘The next big one is Roth cafeteria,’ Kelly said. ‘We will probably start next academic year and it should be completed during the summer of 2004.’
In addition, the former foodservice offered by the Humanities building is being replaced by an increase in the number of Food Carts around campus. The FSA also proposes to build a new ‘mini cyber cafe’ in the Kelly Deli area for the new influx of residents in the Undergraduate Apartments.
A new service is being offered on Campus Dining’s website, www.campusdining.org, for students to check their meal plan balance online. Kelly hopes that it will relieve some of the students’ angst about the uncertainty of their meal plan points.
‘I think students don’t think about what the dining service does for the community,’ Kelly said. ‘We are going to pay more attention to special events and bring students together with programs like the Halloween party and Latino Night.’
But some students still have trouble swallowing what, at times, are astronomically inflated food prices.
‘What really got me was the $20 box of Jelly Belly jelly beans,’ sophomore Daniel Galecki said. ‘I bought an identical box at the supermarket for seven bucks.’