A Concordia student says she will be pursuing legal action against the university for breach of trust after the school re-signed an exclusive contract with Pepsi.
Laura Beach claims that the school promised to consult with campus environmental groups before signing any deal related to beverage sales. However the school says the new deal allows for bottled water to be banned and that students, including Beach, have been invited to participate in the working group that is looking into that issue.
The specific details of the suit are unclear, as of Monday nothing had yet been filed at the Montreal courthouse.
Beach has been one of the most visible proponents of banning bottled water here at Concordia. Last Wednesday a handful of students protested a meeting between Nestlé Waters and Concordia. According to Nestlé the meeting was “on a point of principle,” the company wasn’t seeking Concordia’s business, instead they were lobbying against a bottled water ban. They have also written letters to student newspapers on this issue.
But the issue goes deeper than water.
“What started as a campaign to kick bottled water off campus is growing into a fight to reclaim student control and bring a more accountable and transparent process to school administration,” said Beach in a press release put out by her new group, Campus Against Corporatization. “We don’t just want a ban on bottled water, we want an open dialogue with the student body for all decisions that affect their campus.”
The real issue here isn’t what soft drink brands are available on campus it’s about what kind of relationships universities should have with corporations and how much say students should have in those deals. At least at Concordia, students have little to no input on deals with corporations, whether they’re for computers, advertising, food service or cola and I’d hazard a guess that the situation is similar at most universities in the country.
What’s even more concerning than the lack of consultation is the secrecy surrounding these deals. Concordia wouldn’t even tell reporters who signed the new deal with Pepsi on behalf of the university – let alone what’s actually in the contract.
Universities are going to have deals with corporations, that’s unavoidable. And with university finances the way they are in Canada corporate offers will likely be even more appealing for universities, but the question of how much input students should have in the decision making process is an important one. It’s a question that cuts to the heart of one of the most important discussions surrounding Canadian universities right now: what is the nature of universities and what relationship should they have with their students?
Are university students just customers of semi-private companies? Or does the term “university community” actually refer to a real community?