Posted by the Editorial Board
When prospective students tour the college for the first time, a walk through the Murray Aikins Dining Hall can be a jaw-dropping experience. Visually, the building makes an immediate impression - how many other colleges feature a dining hall on every student and faculty ID card? Once inside, the walk from station-to-station features more shouts of "But wait, there's more," than a Ron Popeil infomercial. The array of options available can be staggering, and the range of cuisines and dietary accommodations consistently impress.
Those students who decide to attend Skidmore will become intimately familiar with all of those options, as first year students are required to purchase an unlimited meal plan. With only a microwave available for food preparation in most residence halls, first year students will inevitably eat nearly all of their meals in the Dining Hall.
For first year students, that arrangement is ideal. The Dining Hall is an inherently social experience, and for first year students, particularly during the fall semester, being brought together at meal time is valuable. Likewise, while some students may come to school equipped to fend for themselves, gastronomically, not all are prepared to do so. Requiring all first years to purchase an unlimited meal plan may trend toward excessive hand-holding, but it also ensures that no one starves while learning the ins-and-outs of college.
The level of hand holding, however, diminishes in sophomore year. There is no explicit "sophomore year experience," and as the spring deadline to declare a major approaches, sophomores rapidly disperse along their own unique routes through college. For the vast majority of sophomores, however, dining remains restricted. All students living in residence halls, regardless of class year, are obliged to purchase an unlimited meal plan. Without more kitchen amenities in dorms, most students are admittedly unlikely to stray far from the Dining Hall, but it is not unprecedented, and the lack of choice is frustratingly restrictive.
The college's stated goal is for the majority of students to live on campus, and rules prohibit rising-sophomores from drawing for off-campus housing, so simple math dictates that nearly all sophomores will live in residence halls. As a result, nearly all sophomores are obliged to purchase meal plans, regardless of personal dietary preference. Dining Services does a commendable job catering to students' needs, however, no system is perfect, and some students may find themselves more comfortable choosing other options. After a year spent living in Saratoga Springs, it is safe to assume that students are acquainted with the multitude of dining options available downtown, or may have friends with open kitchens in Scribner or Northwoods Village. Requiring sophomores to purchase an unlimited meal plan adds a significant cost to tuition and prohibits students from exercising other options.
It seems unlikely that allowing sophomores dining flexibility would put a dent in Dining Services operational budget; most dorm residents will still likely choose a meal plan, if only because it is convenient and readily available. The few who feel the need to pursue other options, however, ought to have the right to so. It is a simple matter, but one that speaks volumes about expectations of personal responsibility. As students we are expected to fend for ourselves in a strenuous academic environment; surely we can handle the choice of where to eat.