Miscommunication from multiple sources led to widespread confusion over the state of meal swipes in Pearsons over fall break, leaving many wondering what exactly went wrong, and what the administration plans on doing to make sure it never happens again. On Oct. 2, an email was sent to the student body informing them that Pearsons wouldn’t accept meal swipes over fall break, instead requiring students to pay $6.50 for the privilege to eat, however this already didn’t sit well with some of the faculty.
When it was announced to faculty that Pearsons was going to be closed during fall break, Maryville College athletic director Kandis Schram was concerned because some athletes were required to stay on campus during that time. Therefore, the Residence Hall Association, the Athletics Department, and the Office of Student Affairs combined funds to keep Pearsons open.
According to Melanie Tucker, the Vice President and Dean of Students, these combined funds covered the “labor associated with having Pearsons open.” In addition, the Athletics Department, according to Coach Schram, also paid the $6.50 needed for each athlete’s meals that were required to stay over the weekend. Tucker then realized that it wouldn’t be fair to open Pearsons only for the athletes, so she helped orchestrate with Metz to allow any student to enter for the price of $6.50 per meal. According to Tucker, last year when the school was negotiating with Metz, they decided not to include meals during fall break in the meal plan because the break was going to be two days, unlike previous years, when the school only had one day off.
She described the reason for the decision: “We believed we were benefiting the majority of students by trying to maintain a lower cost for meal plans, especially since most students go home over fall break.” Tucker also mentioned in the SGA meeting that Residence Life was also instructed to alert students.
I attempted to determine how much money was saved by closing Pearsons for two days but was unable to do so. According to Jeff Ingle, the Vice President for Finance and Administration, the school cannot disclose confidential contract information pertaining to the specific costs of the contract between Metz and the school.
Tucker was surprised when the school didn’t receive any criticism when it was announced in September that Pearsons would be closed, but when it was announced that Pearsons would be open and meal swipes were not available, there was a lot of criticism.
There was a reason for this: miscommunication. When asked why students weren’t alerted earlier about the changes at the Student Government Association meeting on Oct. 11, Tucker said, “The Scot Knot went out to parents on September 6th, and RA’s were asked to share that Pearsons was closing with their residents.”
The Scot Knot is a newsletter sent to parents over email about what’s happening on campus. Many parents, including my own, assume that students are already aware of the contents of the newsletter.
Amanda Matthews, a Resident Assistant in Pearsons Hall, addressed this statement, “We RA’s were never notified to say anything about [Pearsons’ closing] to our residents.” These missteps are what caused the controversy: most of the student body was unaware of the changes regarding the usage of the meal plan during fall break.
Many students were confused about why they would need to pay $6.50 when they’ve already paid for the meal plan. Meal swipes are banked throughout the semester. This means at any point in a semester, someone could hypothetically swipe into Pearsons six times a day. When I asked Tucker why couldn’t they just turn on the meal swipes for Pearsons, she answered because the “meals weren’t paid for ahead of time.”
Metz’s General Manager, James Dulin, shed some light on this:“The meal plan is bought from the school by students. I charge the school weekly for the meal plans, not by swipe. We charge the school weekly based on a portion of all purchased meal plans, not based on the number of meal swipes used, and if the weekend or break is not included in the agreed upon contract, students cannot use block meal swipes during that time. I had to charge additional money to cover the costs, and I tried to shrink [the price] as much as possible. Unfortunately, I can’t speak to what is going to happen next year. I think there was a lot of lack of communication.”
Many students who stayed on campus this weekend were eager to share their thoughts and experiences about this change in policy.
Maren Daniels, a junior MC Ambassador, was not required to stay during fall break, but simply did not want to go home. Daniels describes the experience as “Downright inconsiderate. I am fortunate enough to have a car, enough money to buy food elsewhere, and a close commuter friend willing to feed me home cooked meals. I am trying to save any money that I can for study abroad and graduate school, so I was very frustrated that I couldn’t use meal swipes.”
Like Maren, many other students ate off campus. Another student without a car, Diamond Cronan, described her solution as a huge inconvenience, “I ate through different delivery services, and when my friends could, they drove me. This was only twice though.” Cronan is not alone in her experience. Many students across campus were affected in the same way.
Since Tucker and Schram helped organize the opening of Pearsons, one may wonder what it was like to eat there over fall break. According to Andrew Gentry, a freshman football player who ate at Pearsons during the break, he described it as, “The food was bad, and because of that I only ended up going once. There weren’t a lot of options. Something that also surprised me was that they only had plastic silverware and paper plates. Also, Pearsons only had plastic cups.” Gentry isn’t the only person to feel this way.
Adam Diggs, a senior football player, was also disappointed by the lack of options, “Main Plate and the salad bar were open. Everything else was closed.”
There was a reason for the use of plastic cutlery and the lack of stations according to Dulin, “By the time decisions were made, I had many staff members that had already planned to be away. I couldn’t fully staff Pearsons with the limited time. I built that base cost of $6.50 based on five people working: a dishwasher, washing the pots and pans, a supervisor, a server, a greeter, and a cook.”
Students were disappointed with the quality/ amount of food and rightly so. Many other students felt inconvenienced by this change, and some even chose specifically not to eat at Pearsons because of the cost.
Miracle Walls, a junior Bonner Scholar, said, “I think that it’s very unfair to expect us to pay extra for our meals for the entire break when we have already pre-paid for a meal plan.”
Fall break and the problems surrounding it can be traced back to one thing: miscommunication. It seems like the administration and Metz tried their best to fix the issues once concerns were raised, but many students could not voice their concerns or make appropriate alternatives because they were not aware soon enough.
I believe that the school has the responsibility to consider the effect that these kinds of changes have on students. I hope everyone learned from what happened this year, so that next year all people feel like their concerns were heard. If I have learned anything from writing this article, it is that we as students need to take charge and reach out to the administration when we are confused or frustrated about issues on campus.