McMahon Freshmen Frustrated by Meal Plan Cancellations

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McMahon Freshmen Frustrated by Meal Plan Cancellations

(PHOTO BY ZANA NAJJAR/ THE OBSERVER)

(PHOTO BY ZANA NAJJAR/ THE OBSERVER)

(PHOTO BY ZANA NAJJAR/ THE OBSERVER)

(PHOTO BY ZANA NAJJAR/ THE OBSERVER)

By SOPHIE KOZUB, Staff Writer

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In late September, just as pre-midterm stress began to set in, freshmen living in McMahon got one of two surprises: a cancelled meal plan, or a bill for close to $1,600.  

One of them was James Zucconi, Gabelli School of Business at Lincoln Center (GSBLC) ’19.  Like many other freshmen, he used his meal plan every day since orientation at the Undergraduate Dining Hall and the Ram Cafe.   

Around September 28, however, Zucconi suddenly encountered a problem.

“One day I went to the cafeteria and my ID wouldn’t swipe in and I thought something was just wrong with it,” Zucconi said.

It turned out he wasn’t the only one experiencing this problem.  The IDs of the other freshmen residing in McMahon that had meal plans mysteriously stopped working at Sodexo venues the same day.

We thought it was a system glitch,” Joseph Sullivan, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ‘19, said. “That’s what we were told at the time [by Sodexo].”

After close to three weeks in some cases, all the freshmen who wanted to continue on their meal plans without significantly decreasing the amount of meals they would receive were finally able to use their meal plans again by reordering them for an additional $2,785.  Those that had cancelled their meal plans earlier on, when they found out that they would be in McMahon, had to pay $1,590.

Why? When they were assigned to live in McMahon, whether they chose to or not, they were never notified that the room fee would be $7,457.50 per semester, instead of the $5,867.50 for living in McKeon.

“I didn’t decide to live in McMahon,” Zucconi said.  “They didn’t tell me we were going to pay more or that the [room fee] was higher on the notification email that I’d be living in McMahon.”

While they had expected to pay $5,867.50 for room in McKeon and approximately $2,940 for board, they did not anticipate losing their meal plans and having to reorder them, as well as paying a more expensive room fee for living in McMahon.  Unless they opted for Commuter Voluntary Plans, which are less expensive but provide significantly less meals than their original meals plans, reordering a meal plan meant paying an additional $2,785.  Similarly, those who had cancelled their meal plans earlier on weren’t expecting to pay $1,590 for an increased room fee.

What came to light through an email from the Office of Residential Life on October 1 was that the Office of Residential Life had cancelled the McMahon freshmen residents’ meal plans, and used $1,590 of that money to cover the increased room costs from living in McMahon instead of McKeon Hall.

“McMahon residents are not required to be on a meal plan; and students in some instances had signed up for meal plans when they were originally being processed for McKeon,” Director of Residential Life Jenifer Campbell said.  “After students were made aware that the meal plan was not required if one resides in McMahon, some students decided they didn’t want to opt for a meal plan. Sodexo did not remove anyone from the meal plan at the start of the semester as we confirmed which students in McMahon were opting to remain on the plan.”

Some freshmen McMahon residents, such as Olivia Toups, FCLC ‘19, cancelled their meal plans when they found out that McMahon residents were not required to have meal plans.  However, they also claim to have not been notified that the McMahon room fee was more expensive than that of McKeon until the October 1 email.  As a result, Toups and the others that had cancelled their meal plans had to unexpectedly pay the $1,590 difference in room fees.  

“All the kids in my dorm were pretty upset,” Toups said. “I thought it was pretty unfair.”

Campbell also said, “being very charitable, Sodexo had allowed students to continue eating meals several weeks into the semester.”  In other words, the freshmen in McMahon had not paid formally for their meal plans, and were instead continually getting food for free due to Sodexo being charitable.  Sodexo declined to comment.

[quote_center]When registering for housing, students claim to have not been notified of the McMahon room fee being more expensive, or that the meal plans they had registered for would be cancelled as a result of living in McMahon. [/quote_center]

“Upon receipt of the official list from the Office of Residential Life, students were removed from the meal plan,” Campbell said.  “Students had not signed up formally, and that’s when we had to go back to students and say ‘do you really want a meal plan or not, because you’re not scheduled for one as a McMahon resident,’ and that’s when we corrected the situation because some of the students for example had an unlimited plan, and they weren’t really interested in the unlimited plan anymore since they had access to a kitchen and went to the 175 Block plan instead.”

The 175 Block plan, that is mandatory for freshmen residing in McKeon, costs $2,785 per semester and includes 175 meals and $450 in declining balance (DCB).  It is also the cheapest meal plan available that covers one semester that is not a Commuter Voluntary  Plan, which the Office of Residential Life said McMahon freshmen could purchase in its October 1 email explaining their meal plan situation.  The Commuter Voluntary Plans, while less expensive, cover the full year but with a smaller amount of meals.

When registering for housing, students claim to have not been notified of the McMahon room fee being more expensive, or that the meal plans they had registered for would be cancelled as a result of living in McMahon.

“Please know that you are not on a meal plan this academic year as you live in an apartment style building with a full kitchen,” the October 1 email from the Office of Residential Life said. “In early August, all freshmen students had estimated charges (Estimated Room $5,867.50 [McKeon] and Estimated Meal Plan $2,940.00); those charges were removed and replaced with Room McMahon Hall $7,457.50. You are more than welcomed to purchase a Commuter Voluntary Plan with Sodexo.”

“We got an email saying that we were never on a meal plan, which I kind of have a hard time swallowing that pill, considering we were for a month,” Joseph Sullivan, FCLC ‘19, said.  He claims to have received an email from Sodexo confirming that he was on a meal plan in September.

The cancellation of all of the McMahon freshmen’s meal plans, however, was preceeded a month prior by the cancellation of only one student’s meal plan.

“It was the week after orientation and I went down there [to the Undergraduate Dining Hall] and they’re like ‘you don’t have a meal plan’ and I thought I definitely had a meal plan, I definitely paid for a meal plan,’” Ellie Sato, FCLC ‘19, said. “And so I went to Sodexo and called them and they were like ‘you don’t, actually.’  And my mom called Financial Services and they said that they transferred [the money], because I’m in McMahon instead of McKeon. So they basically just took that money from my meal plan and put it towards my housing.  So because of that I didn’t have a meal plan anymore so I just had to get a Commuter [Voluntary] Plan.”

Sato did not get any information explaining the situation without inquiring first until the October 1 email that the other McMahon freshmen received.  She was also confused by the fact that there was close to a month long gap between the cancellation of her meal plan and the cancellation of the one’s had by the other McMahon freshmen.  

“It was like a trial and error thing where we go and fall on our faces and then we go and find help, then they tell us,” Sato said.  “It was very annoying.”

The only notification freshmen received prior to this email regarding the higher room fee for McMahon was on the 25th page of a pdf brochure titled “Discover Your Home,” available through a download link on a webpage, of which there was a hyperlink to on the pdf of the Welcome Letter from the Office of Residential Life, which was attached to an email from the Office sent on June 3.  This information was not included in any other email sent to freshmen from Residential Life, including the housing survey that freshmen were required to complete.

“We sent out a survey to students asking them [the incoming freshmen] what their choices were, and 95 percent of the students [assigned to McMahon] chose to be in the spaces in McMahon,”  Campbell said.

The remaining 5 percent of freshmen residing in McMahon were placed there because they submitted their housing surveys too late, when all of McKeon’s rooms were already filled, according to Campbell.

“Some students were placed in McMahon even though their first choice was McKeon,” Campbell said. “Assignments are based on a queue of when applications are received.”

The McMahon freshmen had signed up for meal plans over the summer because when they were registering for their payment plans in June, they were processed as McKeon residents, who are required to sign up for meal plans.  They were processed this way because they would not receive their room and residence hall assignments, showing who would be residing in McMahon, until July 30.

The reordering of meal plans that followed the cancellations caused further problems for McMahon residents such as Kyoka Millard, FCLC ‘19.

When Millard’s meal plan stopped working and before she had received the October 1 email from the Office of Residential Life explaining the situation, she ordered a 175 Block plan because she  “was really worried about what was going on because I was panicked that I was never going to be able to eat again,” Millard said.  

“I basically learned afterwards that they had cancelled our meal plan and then I got a refund check for the original meal plan I had purchased,” Millard said,  “but it took around three weeks for me to get my other meal plan working again, because even though the declining balance was working at the Ram Café, the swipes were not working here [at the Undergraduate Dining Hall], so I had paid close to $3,000 for this plan that wasn’t working and they weren’t telling me why it wasn’t working, so I was going back and forth with Res Life and a couple people in the Ram Café and eventually it started working again.”

Some students such as Sullivan, however, have yet to receive a refund for the $1,350 remaining after $1,590 was used from their meal plan payments to cover the difference in room fees.  

Some McMahon freshmen, such as Elisa Rastelli FCLC ‘19, unintentionally avoided the cancellation of their meal plans.  Two days before the meal plans of the McMahon freshmen were cancelled, Rastelli decided to downgrade to a less expensive Commuter Voluntary Plan, due to her buying groceries and not using as many meal swipes as she anticipated.  As a result, her new meal plan wasn’t cancelled, but she still unexpectedly had to pay $1,590, similar to the others affected.  

Despite the situation, Campbell defends the decision to conduct housing options through the survey that was sent out this summer.

“I think one of the best things we could’ve done was to send out a survey, because then you’re not forcing folks for the most part into not having a choice in assignment,” Campbell said.   “For those students who applied later, it was a different scenario without a question, but the fact that we were able to provide those individuals who applied early with a choice relative to where they wanted to live was a great thing.”

For now, McMahon freshmen such as Zucconi have not encountered further issues, but are still frustrated and discontented.  

“Out of all the things they could’ve taken money from [to pay for the room fee], they took it from students eating, which to me seems really wrong,” Zucconi said.  “I went from having an unlimited plan to not having one at all.  It was really frustrating.”