News | Inside Arch Café’s books

Deputy Provost Morton Mendelson released a memo to the press last week originally addressed from his office to the Board of Governors that has shed light on the closure of the Architecture Café. The memo reveals that the Café employed 76 students; had accounting shortcomings resulting in $3,000 of missing cash; and that in 2009-2010, the Café did run a deficit, but that this was primarily the result of a management structure imposed in 2007 by the administration. It has also become clear that there was widespread confusion among students and administrators as to the division of responsibilities during the three years the Café operated under mixed management.

McGill Food and Dining Services (MFDS) Director Mathieu Laperle repeatedly used the phrase “grey zone” to describe his department’s duties in managing the Architecture Café. Much of this confusion apparently was the result of a major reorganization of McGill’s food landscape just before the start of the 2008-2009 school year.

In the fall of 2007, when the Café was briefly shut down and then reopened after widespread student protest, it was folded into Ancillary Services, the precursor to MFDS. In the summer of 2009, all food services on campus were “amalgamated” under the newly created MFDS, including the Architecture Café.

Laperle said that his predecessor provided him with some of the Café’s history, but that the situation remained “unclear” when he took over.

Mendelson’s newly-released report details a series of meetings throughout 2009 and the winter of 2010, in which the student managers of the Café and MFDS addressed problems such as payroll, inventory control, and financial accountability. The meetings constituted an attempt to bridge the gap between the two groups and rectify the Café’s mismanagement. “Achievements,” the Provost’s document reads, “were limited, driven in part by the management structure.”

The administration’s February 2010 internal audit, referred to in the document, presented MFDS with an ultimatum: close the Café or implement “proper controls…to ensure that all funds are being collected, properly recorded and deposited.” The administration – not MFDS, Laperle maintains – then opted to close the Café at the end of the fiscal year in May.

Mendelson’s recent document also reveals that “a notice of closure was in effect for approximately six years,” starting in 2000, indicating that closing the Café had been an administration priority for the better part of a decade.

The Café, the document says, was opened in 1993, “without authorization.” Asked why the administration waited 14 years to take action on the Café, Mendelson referenced an “administrative understanding,” in place since the late 1990s, that food services would be “repatriated” – taken over by the administration. Mendelson added that most of the 14 years in question came before his tenure as Deputy Provost. Mendelson was appointed McGill’s first Deputy Provost of Student Life and Learning on July 17, 2006.

Listed as “Outstanding problems as of May, 2010,” the document shows that the Café handled an average of 531 transactions a day, totaling $1,345. Another “outstanding problem,” was the implementation of the Martlet Meal Plan, which MFDS and the administration were pushing for, but students opposed, and which the Café did not honour.

Under the heading of “Alternatives to closing the Café,” the document says that “MFDS has offered to work with [SSMU] to relocate the Architecture Café to the [Shatner Building], but SSMU has not accepted.”

SSMU President Zach Newburgh said that the offer was made at a September 2 meeting between SSMU executives and Mendelson, and that Mendelson’s remark was “taken jokingly.” Newburgh added that, “housing it in our building would be a complete defeat.”