Architecture Cafe was projected to lose $73,000 in ’10-’11

McGill’s Board of Governors made public several documents last week regarding this summer’s closure of the Architecture Café, including some of the financial figures that protesting students have been asking for.

The documents revealed, among other things, that the café had lost more than $15,000 last year and was projected to lose more than $73,000 this academic year.

Students’ Society President Zach Newburgh had requested a report about the café’s closure at the Board of Governors meeting on September 28, which Stuart Cobbett, the board’s chairman, then asked Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson’s office to provide. The resulting memorandum, sent to the Board of Governors on October 22 and made public last week, details the McGill administration’s decision to shut down the popular student-managed café.  

According to the financial information in an appendix to the memo, the Architecture Café roughly broke even last year, aside from the money allocated to McGill Food and Dining Services, which managed the café jointly with the Architecture students. If the Food and Dining Services contributions are included, the café lost $15.

This year’s projected $73,211 loss would have resulted from the hiring of a full-time manager for $49,200 to replace its five part-time student managers.

While he agreed that the hire made sense, Newburgh said that the administration had failed to exhaust all its options before closing the café.

“Clearly, if we were facing financial deficits, we needed to ensure sustainability by raising prices,” he said. “According to calculations, if you raised prices by about 50 per cent, you would have seen the projected deficit disappear.”

Carly Roualt, a former manager of the café who has been a vocal opponent of its closure, declined to comment for this article.

Despite the release of the documents, Newburgh said that SSMU would continue its efforts to reverse the administration’s decision to shut down the café.

“We’re still going to be pushing for the reopening of the Architecture Café,” he said.

The documents also describe much of the history of student-run food services on campus.

According to the report and a subsequent interview with Mendelson, student-run food services first cropped up on campus in the early 1990s. Partly in response to massive financial cuts, the university struck memorandums of agreement (MoAs) with several student groups on campus which allowed them to set up food operations.

In the late 1990s, however, the university decided to retake control over food services on campus, citing problems with the student-run operations such as liability risks. As various student groups’ MoAs came up for renegotiation, the administration declined to renew their authorization to sell food on campus, with exceptions for operations like the Arts Undergraduate Society’s SNAX and the Engineering Undergraduate Society’s Frostbite.

However, the Architecture Students Association, which opened a food outlet in the Macdonald-Harrington Building in 1993, never negotiated an MoA with McGill. As other campus eateries shut down, the Architecture Café continued to operate beneath the radar. (It did not pay taxes, for example.)

After the administration attempted to close the café in 2007, the eatery reopened under the partial control of Ancillary Food Services, which operated food services on campus at that time. Over the next three years, the administration reorganized food services on campus, combining the administration of operations in residences with those on campus. The decision to close the Architecture Café, Mendelson said in an interview, was just one part of the process.

“The Architecture Café,” he said, “as important as it was to many people, was, in terms of the whole scheme of operations, something that we dealt with against a backdrop of massive changes in the organization of food services on campus.”

When returning students found the café closed in September, Mendelson said he was nonplussed by the force of their response, which included two large student protests outside senate meetings.

“I was a bit surprised by the feeling outside the School of Architecture for the Architecture Cafe,” he said. “The space had always, at least notionally, been the Architecture students’ space.”

Though it has steadfastly refused to reconsider the Architecture Café’s closure, last month, the administration announced the creation of a new consultative body, called the Student Consultation and Communication Work Group. The body, composed of administrators and reprentatives from SSMU, the Post-Graduate Students’ Society, the Macdonald Campus Students’ Society, and the McGill Association of Continuing Education Students, is designed to increase student input in administrative decisions.

Newburgh has high hopes for the new group.

“We are institutionalizing a process of student consultation that this university has never seen before,” he said.

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