News | Student concerns dismissed at first Senate

Newburgh’s Arch Café motion deferred to Senate Steering Committee

correction appended, Sept 23

Student Senators grilled McGill administrators at the first Academic Senate meeting of the year yesterday in Leacock 232, while an estimated 300 students protested outside against the sudden closure of the student-run Architecture Café.

Of the many issues discussed at Senate, the Architecture Café was debated the longest.

“80 per cent of the architecture students signed the petition to keep the café open,” said Arts Senator Amara Possian, who first brought up the issue. “[The closure] contradicts the wishes of many students. That is why there is a protest outside.”

Other student senators also argued for reopening the café, with SSMU VP (University Affairs) Josh Abaki reminding the chair that the Student Task Force on Life and Learning “stress[es] a student centred university.” In reply, Deputy Provost (Student Life & Learning) Morton Mendelson reiterated the administration’s stance on the issue.

“The café was operating on a loss… After three years when the ancillary services took over, the café was financially and managerially unsustainable,” said Mendelson.

He also stressed that student organizations were provided with spaces in the past to run operations for some time. These organizations ran into similar financial problems, and had to be taken over by the University.

Mendelson also took issue with the preamble of the question presented in the agenda, stating that he did not understand why the students were so concerned with a space whose area is, “less than a half percentage” of the total social space on campus. Mendelson said that students have “common rooms, and even the group workspaces are used for social interaction from time to time.”

When SSMU President Zach Newburgh started to present a resolution regarding the café, it was immediately struck down by the Chair of Senate, Principal Heather Munroe-Blum, on the basis that Newburgh was out of order.

Newburgh appealed the Chair’s ruling. A vote was held on whether to uphold or dismiss the Chair’s decision, and the appeal was struck down with only the student senators voting to support Newburgh.

Abaki also broached the deregulation of international tuition for French as a second language courses.

Mendelson said that McGill had been subsidizing the French courses for foreign students for a few years, but with deregulation of fees it was no longer possible to do so, as the government funding was no longer there.

“The University is severely underfunded. It can not simply afford to deliver services like this for free…and we can not afford to forgo revenue without charging.”

Abaki argued that the decision was made suddenly, without any student consultation and that “registered international students had been expecting to pay the Quebec rate.”

In response, Mendelson said that, “for the summer term, students who were newly registered for the programs were notified in early May,” but did admit to there being a “slip-off in the communication.”

Provost Anthony Masi also added that “setting tuition is not a policy issue for which a student consultation is needed, but an administrative responsibility.”

Arts Senator Tyler Lawson also went after the administration on tuition, pointing to Munroe-Blum’s presentation to the National Assembly’s Commission de la culture et de l’éducation September 7.

“McGill was the only institution that prioritized graduate education and infrastructure,” said Lawson, referring to the series of presentations given by Quebec universities to the Commission. “Improving the infrastructure…and subsidizing graduate education at [the] expense of undergraduates doesn’t make the academics better.”

The principal responded that graduate education has been neglected and “really needs serious attention with respect to our mission.” She also mentioned measures aimed at decreasing faculty-student ratios, and hiring and retaining tenure-track faculty to enhance the undergraduate experience.

Several motions and reports were deferred to the next Senate meeting, scheduled for October 20. At the end of yesterday’s meeting, Newburgh again tried passing a resolution – aimed at “creating an ad-hoc committee” that had a diverse representation from both the administration and the students – with regards to the Architecture Café issue. Munroe-Blum deferred it to the meeting of the Senate Steering Committee, which will meet Wednesday, October 13.

In an earlier version of this article, Arts Senator Amara Possian was misquoted as saying that “80 per cent of architecture students want the cafe opened.” In fact she said that 80 per cent of them signed a petition to that effect. The Daily regrets the error.