Commentary | We are all architecture students now

Over the past week, students have reacted with anger and frustration to the unilateral decision by the administration to shut down one of the best-loved spaces on campus, and a last vestige of student-managed food services – the Architecture Café, purveyor of campus’s cheapest coffee.

The administration’s reasoning for the decision has been vague and contradictory. Morton Mendelson, the Deputy Provost (Life and Learning) says the café had been losing money. He has provided absolutely no evidence for this claim, and we don’t buy it. Neither does the Architecture Students’ Association (ASA). And that’s still no reason to shut down an institution so well-loved by students. He also says that Arch students would benefit more from “study space” than from the café and the jobs it provides – another claim rigorously denied by arch students. Throughout the entire affair, the administration has been consistently patronizing – like when Mendelson characterized the café as “run like a lemonade stand.” They have made one thing clear: what’s done is done, and done for us.

The administration is attempting to direct attention away from the real context of the closure. Since 2000, they have been making a concerted and alarmingly successful attempt to stamp out all student-managed food services. Administrators have used bullying, coercive tactics like withholding student funds – funds paid by students to their societies. They availed themselves of that tack to force CKUT to drop “McGill” from their name in 2007. They’ve even bought student associations off to gain control of their space – they offered the Engineering Undergraduate Society (EUS) as much as $190,000 in 2003 to give up their cafeteria. The administration has systematically wrangled student-run spaces from group after group: SSMU, the Arts Undergraduate Society, the EUS, the Science Undergraduate Society, the Management Undergraduate Society, the Economics Students’ Association, the Law Students Association, the McGill Psychology Students’ Association and now the ASA. By doing this, the administration has ensured that they can promise no competition from students when they sell big-money contracts to off-campus food providers. They’re taking money out of student organizations’ pockets and handing it over to multinationals like Chartwells and Aramark.

The very fact that it has taken ten years for them to get this far, meeting resistance every step of the way, shows how strongly and enduringly students react against the administration’s approach to on-campus food. It also demonstrates how obstinate the administration has been in dealing with students’ concerns. If it wasn’t for a pro-student food services group, the Coalition for Action on Food Services, students wouldn’t even be able to hold bake sales to fundraise on campus.

The Arch Café has been a particular thorn in the administration’s side. In 2007, when they tried to shut it down, students fought back in numbers, and an agreement was reached whereby Ancillary Services would take over while students would be allowed to manage the café’s day-to-day operations. The 2007 compromise now looks like it was built to fail: if students fight back, take the reins, wait for them to graduate – then shut it down.

Ten years ago, students took up the fight to save student-managed food services on campus; we cannot give up now. More than any other issue, the loss of student-run food services should bring the student body together, as nearly every faculty, over the past ten years, has seen their café, cafeteria, or drink stand be taken away from them for the sake of corporate profits. Even if you’re new to McGill and never had the chance to go to the Arch Café, or just never went, protecting student-managed food services will ensure that food on campus remains healthy, diverse, affordable, and sustainable and show the administration that they should be putting students before profit margins. We all need to stand in solidarity with the Architecture Students Association, and send a clear message to admin: Give us back our café.

Things you can do:
Write the ASA at university.asa@mail.mcgill.ca or phone them at 514-398-6700.

Write Morton Mendelson to tell him how you feel: morton.mendelson@mcgill.ca.

Or write a student-managed food services protest song! Become the voice of the movement! Submit 3-5 verses to commentary@mcgilldaily.com about the admin’s shutting down of the Arch Café and student-run food on campus in general, set to the tune of Florence Reece’s “Which Side Are You On” (find it on YouTube). We guarantee that the winning protest song will be played on Tuesday on the Daily’s “Unfit to Print” on CKUT (90.3FM), that we will post an mp3 on our website, and that we will email the song to Morton Mendelson’s personal mailbox. If you do not feel comfortable doing the recording yourself, we will find a musician to perform it for you. And we’ll print the best three.


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