A policy U-turn by Pembroke College’s governing body has seen the reintroduction of compulsory Formal Hall for freshers. All first years, as well as visiting students, will be required to attend sittings every Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday evening.
The decision comes after a trial-run of holding informal hall every night during Michaelmas term led to overcrowding during the earlier sitting, and a substantial drop in the number of attendees for the later formal option.
The overcrowding was exacerbated by the recent building of 96 new on-site rooms for second years, which increased the demand for informal hall.
Undergraduates already pay a set rate of £260.64 per term for college dinners. The decision will see freshers now compelled to attend formal sittings.
In an email circulated to Pembroke freshers, JCR President David White explained the reason behind the reversion, saying: “Firstly, it is important to understand that at the start of last term the dining arrangements changed radically. The volume of meals being served almost doubled.
“There were no quotas enforced on any days of the week and all were newly free to choose between formal and informal dining options three times per week.”
He went on to outline the “problems [which] quickly emerged” with the new system: “The normally high and stable formal hall attendances were dropping significantly. The sign-in arrangements were cumbersome and unfair. They also weren’t providing the kitchens with as accurate volume forecasts as hoped. There were regularly problems with overcrowding at informal hall.”
The JCR Committee then engaged in a consultative period with the College in the hope of resolving the issues. This included a special JCR meeting attended by the Bursar and Vice-Regent. White explained how as a result of these discussions, “the two most feasible options became clear”; namely introducing “strict dining quotas for all freshers”, and the reintroduction of formal halls for all freshers”.
White stated: “After this long process, in the end the JCR took no position either way on the reintroduction of Formal Halls for Freshers. It was split. Most Freshers were against it and most non-Freshers for it. No consensus was apparent so no consensus was asserted.”
An anonymous Pembroke fresher described the move as “an inconvenience”: “Formal hall takes significantly more time and while I enjoy it from time to time, it’s incredibly inconvenient to have to sit through it three times a week – especially when you have lots of things going on.”
White went on to express the need for patience from members of the student body during the College’s redevelopment. He explained: “We’re fortunate to be the first generation to benefit from these facilities, and with that comes the responsibility of ironing out any problems encountered along the way.”
“Formal Hall is a great tradition of the College and I’m confident that it will remain so for many years to come.”