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Last spring, Penn's administration shocked students by mandating a number of restrictive changes to undergraduate meal plans.

Just a few months later, the same administrators changed course -- reversing some of the most unpopular changes, but dealing freshmen a big blow with the closing of Stouffer Dining Commons.

Clearly, changes in the structure of Dining Services were needed to maintain the system's financial viability. But sadly, it seems that Penn students are still paying the highest price for a system that has been plagued by mismanagement and poor advance planning.

The decision to close Stouffer, while unfortunate, was a responsible response to a dire economic outlook. Falling demand -- likely brought on, to some degree, by negative reaction to last spring's meal plan changes -- created an environment in which four complete dining halls were just more than needed to handle the demand.

Stouffer's physical inadequacies, as well as a long-standing reputation for poor quality and poor service, only compounded the issue.

But while one burden might now be gone, many problems still linger. Increased local competition -- especially in the form of new restaurants, The Freshgrocer and other retail ventures -- threaten to drive more customers from the three remaining dining halls and towards the fringes of campus.

Now is the time for Dining Services and the Dining Advisory Board to formulate a strategic plan for future operations, taking those considerations in mind. With a little bit of careful planning and coordination, future Penn students may be spared the inconvenience -- and the outrage -- that so many of us have recently endured.

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