freshmandining
Photo: Jean Chapiro

An online petition from Penn freshmen is calling on the University to re-evaluate its dining plan policies and accusing administrators of the “simple robbery of students.”

The petition, which was posted on Nov. 7, garnered more than 580 signatures by Nov. 12. Wharton and Engineering freshman Jack McKnight, who authored the petition, said he wants to encourage Penn to be more transparent about its dining policy, specifically highlighting the conversion rate between meal swipes and Dining Dollars. 

Meal swipes can be used to gain access to cafeteria-style dining halls like 1920 Commons and Kings Court English House. Students can use Dining Dollars to buy a la carte options at retail locations like Houston Market and Tortas Frontera. 

Freshman students have three dining plans to choose from. The one with the highest number of meal swipes offers approximately 16 meal swipes per week and $100 in Dining Dollars. Given that the meal plan costs $2,624.50 per semester, each meal swipe adds up to be about $9.28. The conversion that Penn offers is $4.87 per swipe, which is nearly a 50 percent loss for students. 

In the other dining plans, a single meal swipe can be worth up to $16.

"This is simply robbery of students," McKnight wrote. "We ask that the University of Pennsylvania changes the exchange rate for swipes to something more reasonable. At the very least, $8 per swipe."

McKnight drafted the petition in response to an email sent by Penn Dining detailing the conversion process. It announced that students on the meal plan can convert up to 30 meal swipes for a limited time from Nov. 13 to Nov. 19. 

"I was in my writing seminar one day doing the math, and I just thought it was a little bit unfair,” McKnight said. “I at least wanted to make something that would get the school to speak out about why exactly this is the conversion rate.” 

Administrators said the conversion rate is designed to prevent significant losses in operating costs. 

“The current conversion rate was designed to provide students some value for unused swipes, which had not historically been the case, while ensuring that it would not significantly impact operating costs,” Director of Business and Hospitality Services at Penn Dining Pamela Lampitt said in a statement. 

However, various students have indicated that they do not think this explanation is sufficient. Images of McKnight’s petition and the email from Penn Dining were edited and subsequently posted on the Facebook meme page, “Official Unofficial Penn Squirrel Catching Club,” receiving reactions from hundreds of Penn students.

“I just don’t think that’s fair for us to be paying so much for a dining plan that freshmen have to be on,” said College freshman Tiphani Swaby. “And when it’s fine have Dining Dollars, which is the favorable currency, it’s not equally converted.”

College freshman Emily McCann agreed, “I think most people agree with the petition,” she said. “Some people say that they don’t think it will get anything done, but they agree with it.”

This is not the first time that students have raised concerns about the Penn Dining Plan. In July, Engineering sophomore Colby Cox launched a petition to protest Penn's policy of disallowing students to cancel their Penn dining plans prior to the beginning of school. The petition received more than 200 signatures, but no changes were made to Penn's policies. 

In March 2016, The Daily Pennsylvanian also conducted an unofficial survey which found that nearly 80 percent of freshmen respondents wish they did not have to be on a Penn meal plan.

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