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Earlier this week, the Powers That Be emerged from their offices in the Franklin Building, looked out over the Quad and said, "Let them eat Stouffer." In yet another example of the lack of effective communication between the administration and the student body, Penn administrators decided this week to force 17 meals a week down the throats of next year's incoming freshmen. And while this idea may seem like a reasonable way to resuscitate the dying dining system, it doesn't solve any of its problems in the long run. In fact, it will remedy financial problems at the expense of an already shaky dining system. Earlier this semester, Dining Services had to close one of the floors of Stouffer for lunch because of slow business. This closure is indicative of the failure of Stouffer -- and of campus dining in general -- to meet the needs of the student body. Perhaps this should have been a warning sign that what Penn provides proved unsatisfactory to the student body -- and, more importantly, inferior to the competition. So Penn responded in typical fashion. It elicited input from Penn students -- however, in true form, it went through the traditional, unrepresentative channels that it continues to believe represent the opinions of the student body. It relied upon students taking the initiative to tell the administration its ideas about dining. And it came to the conclusion that the best way to remedy the current dining dilemma was to impose a lot of cost and inconvenience upon its future students. On top of a tuition hike, Penn increased the cost of its meal plan. In addition to the financial burden, this imposes heavy social costs on the average student. For those of us who take several classes back-to-back, missed lunches go down the drain. Late sleepers are throwing away money on breakfasts that they'll never see. And the $12 lost on a missed dinner could go to good use on pitchers of beer... err, root beer. As usual, Penn fails to acknowledge the real reason that its dining system fails: as I explained to my parents during my first semester of freshman year, "The food sucks!" When The Daily Pennsylvanian reported the closing of Stouffer's second floor earlier this semester, the success of Houston Market was cited as one of the reasons. Anyone who's visited other schools around the country could tell the administration that Houston Market more clearly represents what those other schools have to offer in their dining halls. Now, since Penn students pay almost $12 for dinner at the Class of 1920 Commons -- and could get, say, pasta with sauce, vegetables and meat for $7 at Houston Market -- it leads me to believe that the dining halls could accommodate the kinds of meals that students seek out at Houston. Additionally, the archaic Dining Dollars system needs a facelift worse than Joan Rivers. At our peer institutions, "points" -- the equivalent of Dining Dollars -- can be used at establishments like Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, bagel stores and Chinese restaurants. Meal plans would be much more successful if Penn students could use their Dining Dollars at establishments like Beijing, College Pizza, Billybob or El Diner. Meanwhile, Houston Market, Au Bon Pain (in Steinberg-Dietrich Hall and Vance Hall), the Williams Hall Cafe and the like should all be on the meal plan proper. There is not a doubt in my mind that this will be one of Penn's glaring administrative failures. It represents the exact opposite of what the average Penn student would tell the people in College Hall if given the chance. As usual, Penn has taken on the role of the parent, saying, "You're going to do this because we're your school and we say so." Meanwhile, the chicken dijon will be getting cold in Stouffer at lunchtime while the line for Hemo's gets longer. Regardless of whether this was the right decision for Penn to make (which, by the way, it wasn't), Penn showed its ignorance in communicating with the student body. Had it gone the extra lengths to reach a wider sample of students, it may have realized that the underlying problems with the dining system reach farther than the bank account. It spoke to the students who are on meal plans and probably will continue to have meal plans. And as always, Penn forgot to ask the people who don't like their programs what they could have done better. Had administrators spoken to the people who dropped their meal plans, they might have realized that a lot of work must be done in order to draw students back to Stouffer.

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