The Daily has obtained a bundle of documents relating to the Architecture Café – including personal emails between administrators and student politicians, internal memorandum, and reports – after filing an Access to Information request. The document dump sheds light on the decision-making process surrounding the closure, detailing a coordinated media strategy on the part of the administration. Several key administrators and faculty declined to comment for this article, referring The Daily to Deputy Provost Morton Mendelson. They include Director of the School of Architecture Michael Jemtrud, Director of McGill Food and Dining Services Mathieu Laperle, Assistant Director of Legal Services Vilma Campbell, Dean of Engineering Christophe Pierre and Director of Media Relations Doug Sweet.
Within the broader narrative of the Architecture Café’s closure, both SSMU and the Engineering Undergraduate Society (EUS) entered the game late. SSMU entered the dialogue as part of a late-summer attempt to open an Arch Café-like space in the University Centre, and the EUS was drawn in as a potential solution to the cafe’s perceived financial problems. By mid-September, both organizations were lobbying to re-open the cafe under student management in its original space.
The earliest records of SSMU and EUS entering the conversation are found in a June 15 email from Director of the School of Architecture Michael Jemtrud to Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson. Jemtrud wrote that ASA president Kyle Burrows “has spoken with the SSMU and EUS presidents. It looks like the SSMU is the most likely route,” referring to re-opening the cafe in Shatner. “The EUS seem to merely be interested in our female students and graphic design capabilities,” he added.
“I am not aware of any such meeting,” wrote SSMU president Zach Newburgh in an email to The Daily. “I had met with Kyle Burrows in June to ask about the status of the Architecture Café after having heard a rumour that the University was shutting it down. Kyle assured me that there was no such action being taken by the University, and that it was nothing more than a mere rumour.”
According to the correspondences obtained by The Daily, Newburgh was not involved in any Arch Café dialogue for the rest of summer, until August 27, when Director of McGill Food and Dining Services (MFDS) Mathieu Laperle proposed opening a similar cafe in Shatner.
Laperle wrote Newburgh: “I have a suggestion for you: there is no space on campus available for [Arch Café], but we can help you to prepare (MFDS with SSMU) a business case during the school year to open a kind of ‘Architecture Café’ inside [Shatner].” According to Newburgh, “This was the first time that an employee of the University suggested” such an alternative.
“Unfortunately, there is simply not enough space in our building to add another food operation,” wrote Newburgh.
Four days later, according to Newburgh, Mendelson proposed the same alternative. In the November 8 issue of The Daily, Newburgh said the remark was “taken jokingly.”
“Beyond a casual email correspondence, and an off-hand comment made by the Deputy Provost in person, there was no real proposal to move the Café into [Shatner],” said Newburgh. “Considering that the ASA was in the process of becoming a departmental association of the EUS, it made the most sense to ensure that the former could continue running the Architecture Café under the latter’s legal supervision.”
The incorporation of ASA into EUS had been in the works for years, and it was this burgeoning formal connection between the two organizations that fueled the EUS’s legislative attempts to save the Architecture Café.
Keresteci said that the administration had supported the merger for a long time.
“When I came into my presidency I knew that that kind of move was supported by the administration,” he said.
With the move coming closer to fruition through the fall, finally approved by the Architecture student referendum November 9, the EUS drafted a proposal for a student-run Arch Café under EUS oversight. Keresteci submitted the proposal to Mendelson September 21, and on October 8 Mendelson replied, rejecting the proposal.
Engineering Senator Andrew Doyle had attempted to set up a meeting with Keresteci and the Dean of Engineering, Christophe Pierre in a September 17 email to Pierre. The Dean was unavailable, and Doyle ended up meeting with Engineering Faculty Senators David Covo and Arun Misa two days before the September 22 Senate meeting.
“We really just wanted to know anything: why it was happening, why nobody knew anything about it until it was too late, why there was no forum for us to bring this up in,” said Doyle. “We’re talking about something that should be the jurisdiction of somebody else, just nobody knew who that was. It should have been Christophe Pierre.”
Doyle, who edited the proposal, described it as “pretty rough,” explaining that it had been generated in three days in order to submit it before the Senate meeting. When asked if it would have been preferable to submit a more refined proposal at a later meeting, Doyle answered, “To be honest, I don’t think it matters, I don’t think there’s a way to reverse this.” Keresteci said that the neither the failure of the proposal, nor the time Mendelson took to reply, surprised him.
“I never really felt like the proposal was ever going to be taken seriously,” said Keresteci.
“The reason we did the proposal was to show that we wanted to be constructive. … If there was a possibility – which we didn’t even know there was – if there was a chance that they wanted to look at a student-run option, then we wanted to have something ready for them.”
Doyle concurred, stating that the proposal had been designed as a response to the administration’s arguments that the cafe wasn’t financially sustainable, illustrating that EUS could assume the financial responsibility for the cafe. After the September 22 Senate meeting, Doyle said he confronted Mendelson about the proposal.
“Mendelson and I had this back and forth, and he basically just said, ‘Listen, we have this MoA with student groups, with everyone, saying – and there’s a clause – ‘You can not compete with McGill Food Services.’ And he didn’t explicitly say that that was the reason that it was closed, but that was the message that I got,” said Doyle.
Email correspondence obtained by The Daily reveal that the administration had clarified their position to the EUS proposal less than 24 hours after receiving it. Keresteci said that he did not know Mendelson had decided to reject the proposal the day after it was submitted, but said he wasn’t surprised given that accepting it “would be against what the administration’s plan is right now,” which is to move away from student-run food services on campus.
“That’s why it didn’t really surprise me when he came back two weeks later saying no, and that’s why it doesn’t really surprise me that he made the decision the next day, because it was clear that the administration never really wanted to revisit the issue of a student-run Arch Café.”
For a brief moment, however, it appears that Mendelson considered taking the proposal seriously.
At 8:00 a.m. on September 22, Mendelson wrote to Laperle, “If we even consider the EUS suggestion, we can’t remove the Arch Cafe equipment, so please don’t remove it until we’ve decided whether we might go there.”
Less than four hours later, Mendelson had decided to reject EUS’s proposal. In an 11:27 a.m. email to Laperle and Pierre, among others, the Deputy Provost wrote, “After considering the EUS proposal and its implications further, I believe it is in the University’s best interest to hold the line on our position that student associations cannot offer food services on campus outside the University Centre and Thompson House.
Thanks to all who have provided feedback on this.”
More on ASA’s involvement: https://mcgilldaily.com/articles/38762