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When Penn administrators quietly raised the prices at Houston Market earlier this semester -- while simultatenously shutting down McClelland Marketplace and Chats -- we thought their decision was misguided. When the same administrators hiked the price of a Penn education by 5 percent just a few weeks later, we thought their decision was rooted in poor fiscal planning and errant priorities. Now, Penn's administration is at it again -- requiring that all incoming freshmen subscribe to an outrageously priced meal plan for their first year on campus. And that decision, quite frankly, is the most senseless of the three. At its very best, the plan to mandate a 17-meal-a-week plan for all freshmen is a futile attempt to foster community within the four scattered University dining halls. Administrators -- who have struggled to turn the lackluster dining halls into more robust campus centers since the inception of the College House System in 1998 -- naively say that requiring a meal plan will help new students "focus on their studies." That kind of thinking, while idyllic, is based in ignorance -- students living in a city like Philadelphia eat in dining halls more for convenience than community, and they rarely eat in them 17 times a week. One would think -- especially with the number of retail outlets that Penn is attracting to the area -- that the University would actually try to encourage students to venture out into the community during their first days here. At its worst, though, the dining plan requirement is yet another greedy and transparent attempt to squeeze more dollars out of students who already pay so much to this University. Amazingly, Penn's business leaders readily admit that the decision was reached, in part, to "stabilize revenues," especially as they relate to students who dislike the dining halls and cancel their plans after the fall semester. When most businesses find their revenues lacking, they take action to improve their services or reduce costs. But when Penn finds that students enjoy the freedom that the city's dining options offer them -- a freedom that is often exercised at the very same tables as their classmates and friends -- they merely mandate the purchase of a restrictive dining plan. That type of policy penalizes students for whom on-campus dining is inconvenient or unpleasant. And it further penalizes the entire student body for the poor planning of the University's number-crunchers. Sadly, though, the victims of this gross exploitation -- the members of the Class of 2005 -- are not yet on campus to voice their displeasure. That's why it's incumbent upon Penn's current students -- and especially their leadership, the Undergraduate Assembly -- to take decisive action to reverse this ridiculous decision. Allowing it to stand would send a sad signal to Penn administrators: a signal that exploitation -- whether at Houston Market, through tuition hikes or with freshman meal plans -- will be accepted by an easily-had student body. And as prices go up, that's a signal we just can't afford to send.

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