Monday, September 22, 2008

The power of Facebook

Texas Christian University recently opened up a brand spankin' new student center, which is a far cry from the old one (although I'll miss the old one, too). While the students enjoy the new building, what they don't enjoy is the new meal plans that came with it. Freshmen and sophomores have to purchase a meal plan, which can be either $1,799.00, $1,979.00, or $2,099.00 *per semester*. So that you have an understanding about what it is that the students don't like about it, allow me to explain a bit about how it works.

There are three plans to pick from - named silver, gold, and platinum. What students do is go to the main cafeteria and swipe their ID card. The card swiper then deducts the amount of one meal from the $1,799-to-$2,099 that they put into it. Then they go in and eat. It's an all-you-can-eat arrangement, and there's plenty to pick from. That's not the problem, though. The problem is that not all students can spend the time necessary to sit in the cafeteria and eat; sometimes they need to take their meals to go. The previous meal plan allowed for this, but the new - and more expensive - plan does not.

What the meal plan allows for instead is something called "frog bucks". "Frog bucks" are a sum that can be used elsewhere on campus, but it's very small compared to what they have to put into the plans (from $100 to $450 depending on the plan). Not only that, it can get boring eating at the same place all the time, no matter how good the food is. And therein lies the problem: Students are made to eat almost exclusively in one location, and they can't take any of it out. How many of you could eat at the same restaurant day in and day out - even if you have a big selection to pick from? Wouldn't you eventually get tired of everything on the menu?

One TCU student brought up this issue with the management of the eatery, and basically, the student was told that they hadn't got that many complaints. So to gauge how extensive the dissatisfaction of the student population is with the meal plan, the student posted a petition on Facebook (NOTE: You'll probably need to log in to Facebook to see the petition). In one week's time, the petition got over 1,000 signatures on it.

Putting it on Facebook is probably the best and fastest way for the student protester to reach his fellow students. Not only have students signed the petition, so have TCU faculty and staff (including myself). When one of my student workers told me how much she pays each semester for the meal plan, I couldn't believe it. Once I heard about the Facebook petition, I had to sign it as well. And just like that, I was down with the struggle!

When word of the petition got out, the campus newspaper, the TCU Daily Skiff, ran an article on the story. Now the management can no longer just ignore the students' dissatisfaction. Most likely, nothing won't be done until the spring semester at the earliest, but at least now there is more of a likelihood that something will be done than before. The Facebook petition dramatically demonstrated the dissatisfaction that the student population has with the limitations of the meal plan, so it's virtually impossible to ignore.

The easiest thing for the management to do would be to greatly increase the amount of "frog bucks" so that the student would be able to take out more of their meals from other campus eateries. Or perhaps the main cafeteria can have one counter that's exclusively for take-out. Some local franchise cafeterias have such arrangements. Either option allows for more options than the current meal plans do, and most importantly, the students will see that they can make a difference if they speak out. After all, the classroom is not the only place where they can learn lessons. I'll keep you updated on this issue, just so that you know how it plays out.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Amen! I hope that TCU realizes that their new, not completely thought out, plan is hindering them. There are so many other options, but they choose to over look them... the only people I've heard that like the new plan are freshmen who never experienced the Student Center and the Main. It's truly a sad thing.