Students at McGill University are furious over the closure of a student run cafe that the university says was financially unsustainable. On Wednesday, more than 300 students rallied outside the university’s Leacock building where the first Senate meeting of the year was being held to protest the move. Space previously used for the Architecture Cafe will be transformed into a student study space.
While the cafe is managed and staffed by architecture students, its finances have been overseen by the university’s food services since 2007, when problems arose over a neglect to pay taxes and to have regular on site food inspections. “We had no control of the money,” Katherine Messina, a graduate student, who managed the cafe for the past two years, said. In fact, Messina says that while she understands why the university would want a direct role in managing finances, she is skeptical about claims that the restaurant is not viable, as she hasn’t seen accounting records. “The university was not upfront about it. . . . Show us the books.”
The 2007 arrangement only stipulated that the cafe break even in order to remain open, and Architecture Cafe staff claim that they were told in May that their finances were in order.
The McGill Daily reported allegations that the decision to shut the cafe was related to Aramark, a campus food service company, taking over from Chartwells this year. “We seemed to be breaking even, and in May we had meetings with our supervisors and they said we were doing fine.… This summer they said, ‘with Aramark now, you’re not doing fine,’” Carly Roualt, Messina’s successor said.
Morton Mendleson, deputy provost for student life and learning, was unavailable for comment Friday, but he has denied that the decision to close the cafe was in anyway related to McGill’s contract with Aramark. He told the Daily that several business models were explored but that none proved viable. “I had to make the decision that the cafe was shut down – or wouldn’t be reopened in September,” he said. On Wednesday, he informed the Senate that “the administration is not willing to revisit this issue.”
While some students have begun boycotting food services on campus, in further protest of the decision, Messina says the issue has more to do with a general crowding out of student run space, which is becoming increasingly rare. “There’s not many places like that on campus,” she said.
Photo: courtesy of Ali Najmabadi
Video On Campus: McGill Students Protest Arch Cafe, courtesy of David Huehn, the McGill Daily