On Feb. 15, Provost Wendell Pritchett and Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli announced that as part of the University’s Second Year Experience (SYE) program, second-year students will now be required to opt into on-campus dining plans. They also introduced a new dining plan, which will provide approximately 10 swipes per week, as a result of discussions with student focus groups. With this recent initiative, Penn has taken one step forward but many steps back. Under the guise of varying our options and taking measures that are in our best interests, the University is continually acting as a nanny state, unilaterally making decisions on behalf of the student body with no forewarning.
Since the inception of the SYE program in 2018, which extended the requirement for on-campus housing to second-year students starting with the Class of 2024, Penn has cited “community” as the grounds for most of its controversial decisions. Some first-year students had told the University that finding accommodations for second-year housing was a “major source of stress and anxiety.” In spite of avid concerns voiced by students from low-income backgrounds and those involved in Greek life, Undergraduate Assembly representatives told The Daily Pennsylvanian that the administration was already dead set on carrying out this change and was open only to suggestions regarding implementation.
Nearly three years later, Penn is making yet another veiled attempt to force an expensive requirement upon us by reaffirming its mission to “strengthen community.” With this dining initiative, the University is overstating not only the unifying potential of on-campus dining but also the necessity to pay $3,996 for a marginally stronger community. Within their first few months at college, most students develop strong ties to others through shared classes, clubs, and Greek life. Even with the looming threat of COVID-19 this semester, we are continuing to find ample opportunities to meet new people and enter the embrace of various student groups, in part due to Penn’s intrinsically robust student culture. Any attempt to further unite people from a diverse array of backgrounds is indeed laudable, but coercing all second-year students to pay thousands of dollars for what most could have done anyway is laughable.
Given that community-building is not an adequate reason, not to mention that food insecurity could be addressed without mandating sophomores purchase dining plans, it is only natural for us to assume that Penn is doing this to satisfy insufficient demand for University services. If so, there are various alternatives to address this deficit other than incrementally imposing costly SYE initiatives upon sophomores. For one, the University enjoys an endowment of over $14 billion as of June 2020, and Penn President Amy Gutmann, who did not take a pandemic-induced pay cut, is still among the highest paid Ivy League presidents. More notably, the University could also naturally increase demand by simply improving the appeal of on-campus dining: The plans could be more affordable, and the food could be more varied and enticing. A friend of mine, for example, has generally been dissatisfied with the vegan options provided at each dining hall, picking only the fruit with each visit. As such, a natural question arises: For my vegan friend and others that are generally discontent with the quality of dining hall food, why is the University so intent on forcing them to nevertheless purchase dining plans?
It may be worth noting that regardless of this recent change, I, along with many classmates, likely would have paid as a sophomore for a dining plan. I frankly find the food satisfactory and would not like to eat out for every meal. My point, however, is that there is no reason to take away the ability to choose. For those who own a kitchen, are from low-income backgrounds, or otherwise need other lifestyle accommodations, they should not be prevented from resolving their extenuating circumstances as they see fit. Unfortunately, repeating past mistakes, the administration again decided to announce an SYE initiative after setting everything in stone. Only time will tell whether the University can eventually reform its culture of weak communication.
ANDY YOON is a first year in the College and Wharton from Seoul, South Korea. His email address is email@example.com.