Commentary | Alumni to the rescue!

Grads should band together to save Arch Café

There is nothing sadder than seeing a fondly remembered place destroyed. Especially when that place, like the Architecture Café, is the product of so much hard work and so many battles. As an alumna, I was very upset to hear that the administration is once again trying to close the café, but I can’t say I was surprised.

Student-run food services on campus have been steadily consolidated under Ancillary Services since 2000 through a combination of payouts, strong-arm tactics, and dirty tricks. Before 2000, the Redpath and Bronfman cafeterias, as well as those in the Arts, Strathcona Music, Education, and Chancellor Day Hall buildings were all run by student associations. The full story of how they came under the control of Ancillary Services is too long for this article, but here are some highlights:

In 2000, the administration simply took over the Redpath library cafeteria, forcing SSMU to sell its equipment for minimal prices.

In 2001, McGill refused to pay AUS and SUS their student fees until they agreed to new Memorandums of Agreement assigning control of their cafeterias to the University – exactly the tactic the admin used to force CKUT to change its name in 2007.

In 2003, the McGill Society of Physics Students was told by admin that they no longer had a right to the revenue from the sale of beverages in the Rutherford building.

Why go to all this trouble? To quote the Coalition for Action on Food Services, a student group that successfully fought the administration’s 2004 plan to sell Chartwells a monopoly on food services at McGill: “Due to the lack of dining options in the McGill area, the students and staff of McGill represent a lucrative and reasonably captive market.”

This sort of robber baron tactic would make more sense if McGill was a corporation, as Principal Heather Munroe-Blum thinks. But why should students and parents choose a university that regards a student’s basic need to eat as nothing more than a coveted revenue stream?
I could talk about the value of nutritious, sustainable food to the well-being of students and staff. I could talk about the importance of student-run spaces to the campus community as a place to gather and exchange ideas among peers. But I went to McGill for four years, and I know better than to think that quoting the administration’s own “Principal’s Task Force” public-relations material on “student life and learning” at them is going to make any impact.

The McGill administration does care about their alumni fundraising machine, and it’s time alumni start demanding a genuine say in the University when we hand over our cash. Alumni are traditionally supposed to be involved in the governance of universities. Three representatives of the McGill Alumni Association sit on the Board of Governors, but the group is kept on a tight leash by Development and Alumni Relations. There’s a lot on their website about “perks” and “networking,” and many ways to hear bland, chipper news about McGill, but nothing about having a say in the actual direction the University takes.

Let’s act as responsible alumni and say that we will not donate any money to McGill until the administration changes its breathtakingly contemptuous treatment of students. Otherwise, what exactly are we donating to support?
Universities don’t exist without students, they don’t exist without alumni, and they certainly don’t exist to profit off either of them. The people running McGill are hoping that we’ve forgotten that.

Holly Nazar holds a BA ’07 International Development Studies. Are you an alum? Interested in forming an independent alumni association? Email