Aramark and the university extinguished an over-five-year-long guest swipe complication at Muenster University Center Dining at the end of September. Students now have a fewer number of guest swipes to dish out through the semester.
Since Aramark assumed the role as USD’s food service provider, students who purchased meal plans through the university could swipe those without meal plans into MUC Dining five times per week. After Aramark Director Adam Chicoine ran financial reports and noticed a vast influx of guest meals, the university lowered it to five swipes a semester.
“We looked back two or three years, and there were students with a 70-meal plan who were swiping an extra hundred meals,” Director of Housing Kate Fitzgerald said. “In essence, all these other students weren’t on a meal plan but were living off of guest swipes.”
Chicoine believed guest swipes were taken directly from the allotted meals: if a student with 70 meals — the default plan — were to swipe themselves and a friend into the cafeteria, they’d have 68 swipes left, Fitzgerald said. Thus, no need for a weekly limit.
However, the guest swipe policy hadn’t been put on paper and the MUC’s systems weren’t taking guest meals from plans. Neither Chicoine or Fitzgerald knew how long it’d been going on, but Fitzgerald estimated over five years.
Fitzgerald and Chicoine shut down the guest swipe system after learning of the error on Sept. 23. They fixed the error and reinstated the system on Sept. 27, “gifting” students a fresh five guest swipes for the remainder of the fall semester.
Housing told students about the error and the new policy through email. Fitzgerald, who began her role as housing director in June, said she received around 15 responses from students, most of them asking her to explain the situation, but one claiming they could no longer afford rent due to the limited number of swipes. That student wasn’t on a meal plan.
“The majority of the complaints were coming from students who were either athletes or in fraternities,” Fitzgerald said. “When I went back and looked I could tell that’s where some of the abuse had been happening.”
After receiving complaints from athletes, Fitzgerald said she contacted Jamie Oyen, senior associate athletic director, who then explained the situation to coaches to relay to their players.
In Tau Kappa Epsilon (TKE) fraternity, first and second-year students with meal plans swiping in upperclassmen members was common practice, said sophomore member Gabe Lorange.
Lorange said he gets lunch in the MUC five times a week. As a freshman, he lent guest swipes to older members; through September, Lorange, now without a meal plan, relied on the same arrangement for meals.
“It’s a thing within TKE — I swiped in a lot of people last year and this year I’ve been getting guest swipes,” the business major said.
Lorange said he empathizes with students who formed their budgets with the assumption they could get a few MUC meals every week.
“I feel bad for that student who is probably financially in a pickle right now,” Fitzgerald said. “They were planning on getting guest-swiped in and that would get them ‘X’ amount of meals.”
Students with meal plans had used an average of six guest swipes a year since 2016, Fitzgerald said. Aramark didn’t lose any money because of the debacle — each year they unknowingly budgeted for the extra meals.
But that’s the average; some students used over 100 per semester, some used none. Essentially, students who used less than five a semester paid for the difference in their meal plans, Fitzgerald said.
“For some students, it’s probably disappointing but if you look at the system as a whole, we probably did what was fair and right to everybody,” Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald said Housing and Aramark are looking to restructure the meal plan system by fall of 2021. This includes eliminating a few of the eight offered meal plans underused by first-year and sophomore students.