Dining Services and University Housing have partnered with campus food service provider Aramark to devise a debit plan that would require all undergraduates to purchase a minimum of $300 Dining Dollars.
Student Government Association's Tuesday meeting hosted representatives from UT administration, University Housing and Aramark. The representatives briefed the student senate on potential changes to the campus meal plan repertoire.
"I want to stress right off the bat that this is strictly a proposal," opened Jeff Maples, senior associate vice chancellor of Finance and Administration.
If the proposal goes into effect, both commuter and non-commuter undergraduates would be required to place at least $300 into their Dining Dollars account each semester. Only students already on a separate meal plan would be exempt.
Any funds still unused at the end of the spring semester would be deposited into the student's All-Star account and therefore eligible for a refund.
The change, intended to offset debts incurred by campus construction projects, was prompted when meal plan purchases dropped significantly during the past two academic years, Maples said.
"We're not meeting what students want," he said. "We need to look at some other options."
Because the proposed meal plan change is a question of university policy, it will not be subject to a vote by SGA, although it was presented to the student senate in hopes of receiving student feedback.
Student Senator Blake Roller, a junior in journalism and electronic media, was a member of the student committee that conferred with dining services administrators in October to discuss the plans that UT is putting forward.
"We were initially kind of blown away, like, "Wow. What is this? We're being forced to pay money – this isn't cool,'" Roller said. "Via this two and a half hour meeting, we really had the sit-down process of breaking through the business aspects of the program and looking at what happens if we don't do it versus what happens if we do go through with it."
Although the proposal will not be put to a vote by SGA, Roller said the committee decided that the consequences of not supporting the mandatory meal plan were too great to ignore.
"Aramark is a main contributor to UT's construction these days," Roller said, "and if they're not going to be able to reap their harvest of what they're putting into the university, they're going to eventually pull their support away from the university."
UT administrators acknowledged Aramark's substantial contributions to both current and future building projects, including the new student union and the anticipated replacement of Gibbs Residence Hall.
Roller recalled an October conversation with Aramark director Tim McWilliams and said McWilliams estimated the food service provider donated $40 million to the ongoing student union project.
Frank Cuevas, executive director of University Housing, iterated that the proposed meal plan would more-equitably distribute the cost of new campus facilities and dining options among the student body.
"You're no longer having to carry the burden," Cuevas said. "That burden has been shifted across all 21,000 students."
Although the logistic details of the program's implementation have not been finalized, Roller said the administration hopes to make a decision by Dec. 1, 2013.