author: rigel smith | contributor
Is what student’s have sufficient?
The University of Regina and their partnership with Chartwells is failing students, and it is time students start taking action and demanding changes.
Residents who occupy single dorm-style rooms on campus are forced to purchase a meal plan. The plan, which is valid from September to April, gives students access to a select few campus food locations that offer limited hours of operation, nutritionally imbalanced meals, and less-than-perfect health inspection records; all for the minimum expense of $2,460 a year.
The first glaring problem is the lack of variety in menu items and hours of operation for the on-campus locations. Tim Hortons, for example, does not serve its full menu, but rather limits students’ meal options to bagels, breakfast sandwiches, and baked goods. Additionally, of the fifteen Chartwells locations on campus, four mainly serve beverages. This only serves to further narrow down the meal options available to students. If that was not enough, six of the fifteen outlets close at or before 3:00 p.m. on weekdays, leaving extremely limited supper options, which requires students to spend additional money on groceries.
Financially, the meal plan lacks a key component: the ability to obtain a refund for unused dollars. The U of R Residence Handbook states that you are not eligible for a refund of your meal plan unless “you withdraw from residence or from the University.”
Curiously, the option to transfer unused swipe and save dollars onto a card that does not expire – an option that Chartwells offers – is not mentioned in the Residence Handbook. The Handbook specifically states, “Meal cards EXPIRE on April 30. No refunds are given on unused balances.”
This confuses readers, as they believe it means there is no way to get any money back for future use. If there is an option for students to transfer money for use in later semesters, which there is, why does the university seem so secretive about it? Is it because they honestly forgot to mention it, or are the possibilities of additional profit too tantalizing to resist?
When the Carillon reached out to Residence Services for a statement about these various concerns, the office responded with this comment:
“The University has worked in partnership with Chartwells over the last few years to engage the campus community for input on food options, food quality, price points, and hours of operation. There have been a number of improvements to food services this year and we continue to work towards additional improvements. Together we also committed to ensuring health & safety is top priority for both food handling and facility management.”
Not only does this reply fail to provide specific evidence as to how public input led to tangible improvements, but it also seems to disregard the fact that many food outlets on campus had areas of non-compliance on their initial health and safety inspections. Moreover, a number of the locations continued to be non-compliant on follow up inspections (see the Carillon’s 2016 article “University kitchens are non-compliant, again.” for more details.)
To put this into perspective, if a residence student fails a monthly cleaning inspection and does not remedy the problem after one follow up, they are charged a base fee and hourly wage of a housekeeper to clean it for them. This raises the question of why is it that the university holds stricter consequences for a dirty shower than a food outlet with potentially unsanitary practices?
By enforcing a meal plan restricted to campus-only use, and allowing food locations to continue serving even after non-compliant investigations, the university is demanding that its students eat potentially unsanitary foods and therefore put the students at a higher risk for contracting related health issues.
First year computer science student Brendan Sovdi is disappointed in the university’s response to the health inspections.
“Failing the health inspection is disgusting. That should be a really big deal. Not only [are] there only a few places to eat, but [they’re] also not passing health inspections.”
Sovdi also says he wants to see this issue as a higher priority for the university.
“If it were anywhere else it would be a big problem. I still don’t understand why it isn’t here.”
In relation to potentially unhealthy food processing practices on campus, there is an additionally concerning lack of healthy and satisfying food options. The majority of choices available are limited to high fat content, high sugar content, and highly processed foods. While this may not be an issue for students who do not regularly eat on campus, it is a frustrating issue for those who rely on these locations for daily meals.
Establishments such as Austin Grill and Tim Hortons have menus that offer quick and easy options. However, burgers and donuts are not sustainable, and cannot provide proper nutrients. On the other hand, places like Extreme Pita, with one of the largest, and arguably healthiest, menus of any outlet on campus is inaccessible to students who want to use their meal plan dollars. This restriction on locations is not limited to Extreme Pita; other establishments that do not accept meal plan cards include Henderson’s Cafe and Prairie Confectionary. This only continues to limit students who are already struggling for choice and variety.
Sovdi also mentioned his upset with the quality of the food outlets on campus.
“Eating at the same three, four restaurants everyday isn’t very fun. There are lots of places that don’t take meal cards, which I don’t understand.”
Sovdi voices concerns that plague many U of R residents forced into purchasing meal plans. Sovdi wishes there were other options on campus or that the meal plan was an optional purchase for those interested.
One element that seems often overlooked is the building of Kisik Towers. The new residence allows over 600 more students the option of campus life. While not all of the 600 are required to purchase a meal plan, many of them are, and the university has not proportionately increased the food options on campus to support the influx of students.
The Carillon reached out to the Neil Paskewitz, Associate Vice-President of Facilities Management, for an update on the possibility of implementing a formal dining hall on campus to better serve the growing population.
“Since 2009, our student population has grown by 25 per cent. The university’s Master Plan, released in May 2016, indicated that expanded dining facilities are needed to support the university’s continued growth. As a result, we have been investigating the feasibility of adding to that service. Currently we are in the business-planning phase, which includes evaluating the need, cost, return on investment, potential locations, and so on.”
While Paskewitz states that no decision has yet been made, the possibility of a dining hall is a light at the end of a dark tunnel for meal plan users. It would hopefully provide a wider and healthier range of food options for students on campus and help compensate for the larger student and resident populations.
With all of this in mind, it is apparent that this issue is not one that will resolve itself. With more information now on the subject matter, it is up to the student population to reach out to the university administration and make their voices heard to make residence life at the University of Regina more appetizing.