Commentary  Do your job, Deputy Provost

An open letter to Morton Mendelson

While I wish we could be confident that you know your duties as Deputy Provost (Student Life & Learning), it seems you have forgotten your role. Let me remind you of what your position entails:
The Deputy Provost (Student Life & Learning) serves as a central liaison among the University’s senior administration, faculties, student organizations and Senate, with a view to ensuring that impact on student life and learning is factored into decision-making. The Deputy Provost also oversees the university-level academic quality control and international education.

Well, at present, the learning chunk is not of major concern; McGill’s place in the recent QS World University Rankings only changed negligibly, and – even ignoring rankings and their attendant complications and biases – McGill’s research output is surely world class, and its academics likewise excellent. This is not to say that there aren’t large issues that need to be addressed, but these are less clear to me, so perhaps you’ve gotten the “& Learning” bit down with some adequacy. But student life?
Let’s review a key clause from above: “ensuring that impact on student life and learning is factored into decision-making.” Need I really say more? You failed to take into consideration the express wishes of both the Architecture Students’ Association specifically, and students wishes more generally; study space (which, based on the dimensions of the Café, would increase only marginally) is not “sorely needed.” Sure, libraries get cramped at certain times of the year, but that’s university life. And if you’re convinced that the minute confines of the Arch Café would drastically increase available study space – well, I’m certain that there’s unused classroom space of equal dimension (read: small) that could be converted much more readily (read: with almost no changes at all) into mixed-used space. In any case, a key fact that you’re forgetting is this: the Architecture Café was already very much a study space. The fact that it didn’t feel like the basement of Burnside or the far-reaches of the stacks doesn’t mean it wasn’t functional. Comfort, coffee, and couches are a sure-fire way to increase GPAs, as far as I’m concerned. So the study space argument is a cop-out.

What is needed is a place for cohesive student interaction. We go to a big school where people disperse the second they leave class or campus. It’s not always easy find a place on campus where you actually feel (really, truly) part of a community.

That said, let’s review another key role you are to fulfill: “Encourag[e] a strong sense of community for both current and future students.” I am doubtless not alone when I say that, for me, the Arch Café was one of the few spots at McGill where that sense of community was always palpable. Though of course there are exceptions – well-run conferences, seminars, certain departments and majors, et cetera – the barrier between students unacquainted with one another seems at most times too sacrosanct to disturb here. Or at least that has been my experience – and the Architecture Café provided a welcome respite from that alienation, for which we all are responsible. You could sit for hours in LEA132, zombified by its size and the mutual detachment of everyone inside, and then leave, enter MacDonald-Harrington, and realize: it’s okay! Real people go here; you can even talk to them if you want. It didn’t matter that you might never speak to most of the other students and professors you encountered there; it was at least a possibility – and given the loyalty of the patrons, a very real one. It sure didn’t hurt that there was delicious and affordable food (11:00 a.m. brownies, anyone?), either.

I already mentioned why the “study space” argument is a poor one; based on the administration’s reluctance to furnish financial details of the Café’s operation, the financial unsustainability argument seems to be a bad bet, too. By the sounds of it, the operation did break even. Without figures, we can’t be certain of this, but throwing around catch-phrases like “the University cannot afford to subsidize anyone’s lunch” helps no one, and is just patronizing.

So, all said, you have not only failed to take student considerations into the decision-making process, you have made a decision which adversely affects the student community for current and future McGill students. You are not fulfilling your role as Deputy Provost (Student Life & Learning).

Nicholas Dillon

Nicholas Dillon is a U3 Cognitive Science student. You can reach him at