Pierce Tower’s slated closure at the end of the year will also bring the closure of Pierce Dining Commons, one of only three dining halls available to students on campus. As a result of class size increases and a push to increase housing retention, campus dining halls can already be chaotic during mealtime rushes. Once Pierce is closed, the Office of Undergraduate Student Housing (OUSH) and UChicago Dining have announced plans to expand seating in both remaining dining halls—as well as relocate tables for houses in Pierce, Broadview, and Maclean—in order to meet demand. While its intentions are good, the current plan will exacerbate overcrowding in dining halls while unfairly undermining the house system’s ability to foster community for certain residents.
As The Daily Sophist reported last week, both dining halls will revamp their current service structures in order to increase efficiency in light of what will no doubt be a tight squeeze up until the day Campus North Dining Commons opens. These measures will include increasing hours, having more cashiers, expanding food stations, and adding express salad bars for the arugula-only crowd. It remains to be seen, of course, just how well implemented and effective these changes will be, but they seem to have been devised sensibly.
While all of this seems intuitively likely to help ease congestion, the basic problem of making room for all the additional diners is not so easy to solve. The plan to add seating to Bartlett by populating the third-floor track with more tables is a non-contentious idea, but the approach being taken in Cathey is fraught with problems. OUSH and UChicago Dining plan to expand the actual Cathey Dining Commons building to include the Cohler and Sinaiko Club Rooms, two large common areas in Burton-Judson Courts. The added space will accommodate house tables for the three Broadview houses, as well as the four Pierce houses that will reside in I-House and New Graduate Residence Hall starting next year. The space will still be available to B-J residents when the dining halls are closed. However, limiting access to and changing the function of these social spaces may still hinder the sense of community in the dorm. UChicago Dining could at least improve other aspects of the dining experience for B-J residents. For example, installing another cashier at a B-J entry point to allow residents to enter the dining hall through their building would be a welcome and long-awaited change.
Of course, a more glaring problem related to this house table relocation concerns those who live in Broadview. Residents of the dorm, which is located on the 5500 block of South Hyde Park Boulevard, will now be one and a half miles from their new house tables in Cathey for at least the next three years. Given that this is not a reasonable walking distance, Broadview house tables will likely be emptier than usual—a reality that runs counter to everything the house system ostensibly seeks to accomplish with house tables as fortifiers of house community.
Moreover, there are a number of other practical concerns surrounding this move. For one, it seems obvious that Broadview residents who purchase the unlimited meal plan—as all first-years are forced to under the current system—will find that it leaves them unfairly short of on-campus dining options outside of the dining halls given their unique situation. Upperclass students, who have the option of purchasing the Phoenix plan at no extra cost, will likely find the alternative plan’s flexibility lacking if they live in Broadview. It still assumes roughly two dining hall meals per day, something that OUSH and UChicago Dining shouldn’t expect from Broadview residents starting next year, while offering just 15 meal exchanges and an extra $50 of flex per quarter. A new meal plan option with increased amounts of flex and meal exchanges should be devised as a practical concession—at least to residents of Broadview, if not all affected dorms. The planned expansion of on-campus meal exchange options next year will hopefully make this change in dining patterns feasible. Furthermore, incoming first-years placed in Broadview should be freed from their obligation to buy the unlimited plan.
In all, these planned changes to on-campus dining will not only negatively affect many segments of the campus community, but will also serve as a reminder of OUSH and UChicago Dining’s lack of foresight in regard to Pierce’s closure. However, creative and proactive planning, and a commitment to offering increased and more flexible services where possible, will ease the difficulty of this imminent transition.
The Editorial Board consists of the Editors-in-Chief and the Viewpoints Editors.