Contract misled students

Erroneous information contained in this year’s dining services guide and meal contract, which includes a section stating Block Plan meals are usable at a la carte locations, has prompted a SodexhoUSA official to apologize for several oversights.

According to residence hall rules and regulations, which are incorporated in the room and board contract, “Block Plan meals and Wildcat Points may be used at any of the Evanston Campus residence hall food services, at Willie’s Food Court, Willie’s Too, Tech Express and Lisa’s Cafe. Full details of the Block board plans are available in a separate document from the University Housing Office.”

Paul Komelasky, district manager of SodexhoUSA, said the 2002-03 Northwestern University Dining Services guide contained several errors, including a section on the Block Plan stating, “The Wildcat Block Plan meals may be used at your choice of the six residence hall food services and at authorized a la carte dining locations.”

Komelasky said he regretted the misprinted information in the dining guide, but declined to comment on the meal contract.

Willie’s Food Court, Willie’s Too, Lisa’s Cafe and Tech Express are the only a la carte dining locations on campus, but none of them accept Block Plan meal equivalences.

Other errors include the price of the five-meal plan, which the brochure incorrectly lists as $1,216 instead of $1,050, and the minimum Munch Money balance, which should be $100, not the listed $200. Komelasky apologized for the errors he said were “honest mistakes,” and not an attempt to purposefully mislead students.

Communication junior Jessica Sturgeon said she explained this discrepancy in the meal contract in an e-mail she sent to NU administrators who she is meeting with today.

“Originally I was upset because I don’t like the food in the dining halls and I like to eat at Norris, and that’s why I initially complained about it,” Sturgeon said. “But complaining doesn’t get you anything, because they don’t care if you don’t like the food. My main concern at this point is what the contract said. If a student broke the contract, they would be held accountable, so I feel the university should be held accountable if they break the contract.”

Sturgeon said she first found out she could not use her meals at these locations from a resident assistant who was told during training that a la carte dining locations no longer accept meal equivalences.

“I was the president of (North Mid-Quads Hall) last year, and at a (Residential Hall Association) meeting, someone came in to explain the new meal plans to us,” Sturgeon said. “What we were told is that they were going to change the name of the Flex Plan to the Block Plan and they would basically be the same plan. At no point did someone tell us that you couldn’t use meal equivalences because at that point I probably would have looked for an apartment last spring.”

Contributing to the confusion was information available on the dining services Web site that had not been updated.

As recently as Wednesday the Web site stated, “All retail dining locations at Norris accept cash, Bonus Bucks, meal equivalency and WildCARD CashStripe.” Komelasky said last year’s information had not been updated. The errors were fixed by Wednesday night.

Komelasky held his position that new plans primarily were created by students.

“This is something that we’ve worked hand in hand with the students on,” he said. “I think that those students that were involved in the process felt very comfortable that this was a partnership with all parties working together.”

Student representatives from Associated Student Government, Residential College Board and RHA were part of a committee that created the new meal plans last year.

Komelasky said the committee realized it would be impossible to provide a meal equivalency program that would offer the value of what students wanted. The dining committee was formed last year in response to complaints about the discrepancy between the $6.60 value of a meal equivalency versus the calculated value of $13.62 for each meal under a 13-meal-per-week Flex Plan.

ASG Speaker of the Senate Kawika Pierson said creating a meal plan with a fair system of meal equivalency is a problem because SodexhoUSA must charge more to account for the costs of additional staffing at Norris.

“(SodexhoUSA) is a business, and even though they have a monopoly, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re profitable,” said Pierson, who worked on this year’s meal plan changes. “There is no meal equivalency plan that will not have those extra costs in them.”

Pierson said when the dining committee reconvenes it might create a new meal plan option with a significant amount of WildCat Points and few meals. He said Vice President for Student Affairs William Banis already has shown interest in this option.

But Sturgeon said the more relevant issue is that the university still is responsible for mistakes made in the contract.

“It doesn’t matter that there are students on the committee that made the meal plan,” Sturgeon said. “I’m not debating the meal plans that they came up with, I’m debating what they wrote in the contract. If they had written in the contract the meal plans that they are offering us now, I’m not sure I would have signed the contract.”