Almost exactly three years after the Architecture Café lost its independence, McGill students looking for a cheap sandwich or coffee found its doors locked last week. The closure of the café is disconcerting both because of the loss of a popular, reasonably priced, and student-managed venture offering some of the only alternatives to Aramark food on campus, and also because of the secretive way in which it was done.
Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson has said that the administration and McGill Food Services decided to close the cafe due to a lack of revenue. The café was not perfectly run, and there was certainly room for financial improvement. Even if the prices had been raised, it still would have been cheaper than many other establishments on campus. While we agree that McGill should not be in the business of “providing students with subsidized lunches,” they at least should have given the Architecture Students Association more than a paltry two years to develop a sustainable business model. It seems doubtful that the administration ever intended to give the café any opportunity to survive.
McGill’s downtown campus offers very few spaces to eat. With the Architecture Café gone, even students who usually eat their lunch elsewhere will feel the impact as those who used to line the hallways outside of the café begin to squeeze into already-packed places like the McLennan Library basement. Unlike the Architecture Café, these cafeterias don’t exactly provide the most comfortable or generally friendly atmosphere, and they certainly don’t offer students the chance to display their artwork, as the Architecture Café did. The space is much more valuable to McGill students as a place to eat than as a place to study, the eventual result of the planned redesign.
The Tribune is also disappointed with the process which led to the ultimate decision. Even by McGill standards, the administration has demonstrated remarkably little regard for students’ opinions on this matter. Given the protests, debate, and resistance that surrounded the attempted closure of the café three years ago, the university should have remembered that the café was a space cherished by students. However, instead of providing students with a forum to voice their opinions, the decision was made in the typical McGill way: during the summer, so that by the time students returned to class in September, there would be little to nothing they could do about it. If McGill had thought that saving the café was nearly as important as students do, they would have given them time to rally around the cause, raise money, or at the very least voice discontent, at no cost whatsoever to the university.
In losing the Architecture Café, students have lost one of the few on-campus food alternatives, one that was also arguably something of a McGill institution. However, the university itself has also lost an opportunity. Successful student-run businesses are something McGill should want to encourage, and promote itself as encouraging. McGill has missed an opporunity to advertise itself as an atmosphere which fosters student creativity and ingenuity. For this and many other reasons, the Architecture Café should at least have been given a fair chance.