Senate told Architecture Café not financially sustainable

By McGill Reporter Staff

The decision to close the Architecture Café was taken because it had become apparent that the Café’s operating model was not financially or managerially sustainable, Deputy Provost (Student Life & Learning) Morton Mendelson told Senate at its meeting on Sept. 22.

“I did not make the decision lightly,” Mendelson said, “because I know many people in the community feel very strongly about the Café.” While many believe the Café offers the best value for money on campus, he added, that’s because it “is operating at a loss,” which the University can’t afford to subsidize.

Mendelson was responding to a question from student Arts Senator Amara Possian, who noted that the Architecture Café “has been a vibrant social space cherished by McGill’s students and professors” for the past 17 years. “Reasonably priced, fair trade and local foods along with a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere make it a truly unique space on campus.”

The exchange inside the Senate’s Leacock Building meeting room came as an estimated 350 students protested the Café’s closing outside.

Mendelson recalled that McGill Ancillary Services took responsibility for the Architecture Café in 2007, in an arrangement that sought to preserve the Café’s character and students’ involvement and jobs. But in 2009-10, the Café lost slightly more than $15,000, or the equivalent of 10 per cent of its revenues, he said. In forecasting food, labour and other costs, “we felt that we would face an even greater loss in 2011-12 of $73,000” – the equivalent of 44 per cent of revenues, even though revenues were projected to rise. The most significant increase in costs would be due to changes needed to address problems with financial and operational controls in the Café, which were identified by McGill’s Internal Audit in a review of McGill Food and Dining Services.

“What amounts to an ongoing conversation about the Café has spanned many years,” Mendelson said.

In response to another question, concerning the University’s decision to end subsidized tuition rates for international students taking French-language courses, Mendelson noted that the decision was made after the Quebec government withdrew funding following deregulation of tuition charged to international students in certain disciplines. Charging the tuition “should not be interpreted as a lack of commitment to help international students engage and integrate in the local community,” Mendelson said. The University seeks to help students in financial need not by adjusting tuition, but by “evaluating students’ need and by providing assistance with the funds for student aid that are set aside for that purpose.”