CSU Has Thoughts for Food

Food Referendum Questions Seek Student Support in CSU By-Election

  • Photo Andrew Brennan

The Concordia Food Coalition has passed one last hurdle in getting its fee levy question on the Concordia Student Union byelection ballot.

The Dean of Students Office confirmed the group’s petition had more than the required 750 signatures, after CSU Chairperson Nick Cuillerier was initially only able to verify 696 names.

The CFC’s petition was originally presented to council Oct. 9 during a regular council meeting, but because the petition was brought forward after the deadline designated by the CSU’s standing regulations, council had to vote to ignore its own regulations in order to accommodate the CFC’s request.

According to CSU Standing Regulation 138, any “non-CSU group seeking a new fee levy must submit an application to the policy committee for review and approval at least two months before the first day of the nomination period of the Fall by-elections […] in order to be considered by council.”

However, the CFC did not come forward to make their interests known to the CSU until late September, according to CSU VP Academic Gene Morrow, who met with CFC member Gabriel Velasco.

The CFC is a coalition of food groups at Concordia looking to replace global conglomerate Chartwells as the major food service provider on campus. The CFC is currently seeking approval to be included on the CSU’s by-election ballot to ask undergraduates to contribute an eight-cent fee levy to the group per course credit.

Chartwells’ contract runs out in 2015.

Council was unable to reach a decision at the regular council meeting, but was able to approve the CFC’s fee-levy referendum question at a special council meeting one week later.

Cuillerier said there will also be a referendum question from the CSU asking permission to collect student ID numbers to verify member eligibility, to avoid needing to check petitions with the Dean of Students Office.

A second food-related referendum question has also been approved for inclusion on by-election ballots.

The question would ask students whether they wish to “mandate the CSU to establish or help found a cooperative café or cooperative restaurant, of a type that is predominantly controlled by students either through the membership or directly through the board of directors, within the location that is currently leased to Java U in the Hall Building (on the mezzanine).”

The space leased to Java U is operated by CUSAcorp, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the CSU. Concordia originally leased the second-floor space to the CSU with a mandate it be leased and managed by CUSAcorp, according to CUSAcorp chairperson and CSU VP Clubs and Internal James Tyler Vaccaro.

According to Velasco, who helped spearhead the petition for Java U’s space, the petition was not included as a CFC project so it could first garner support among student department and faculty associations.

At least nine arts and science member associations have pledged their support to the initiative, including the Sociology and Anthropology Student Union, the Students of Philosophy Association and the School of Community and Public Affairs Student Association.

But Vaccaro says the CSU’s relationship with its corporate arm CUSAcorp could pose legal challenges for the CSU and CUSAcorp if a student-run space is mandated to open on the Hall Building’s second floor—which is why the motion tabling the referendum question at council was amended so the question would be sent to the CSU’s judicial board first to ensure its legality.

“The idea behind bringing it to the [judicial board] is to even see if there is legal standing for the CSU to be mandated to bring this forward in a space that they don’t technically manage,” said Vaccaro.

CSU VP Sustainability Benjamin Prunty, a member of the CFC and supporter of a student-run space taking over Java U’s current location, told The Link he believes the wording should allow a student-run project to be approved.

“[The referendum question] speaks of mandating the CSU and not the council of the CSU. This is specifically relevant because the CSU is the sole shareholder of CUSAcorp stocks, not the council of [representatives],” he said.

Cuillerier confirmed a petition with 739 verified signatures was provided to the CSU along with the referendum question.

A referendum question only needs 500 signatures if it is not asking for a fee levy per credit from students.

According to Cuillerier, if the judicial board does not approve the referendum question, it will be removed from the ballot. The deadline for submitting referendum question requests was Oct. 25.

For Vaccaro, he says his main concern with a new mandate via referendum is that he thinks council is rushing to solve the problem without fully evaluating the issue.

“It’s really a shame that we weren’t approached to open dialogue and to really discuss this [beforehand],” he admitted.

“It’s not something that should be mandated immediately when we still have a tenant in that space, and to be honest the board doesn’t appreciate having a gun put to our heads to be making this decision immediately,” he continued.

“Java U is still our tenant, and they will be our tenant for quite some time now, so CUSAcorp’s goal is not to push them out and our goal is not to be making a decision immediately.”

A student-run business in the space also presents questions of financial sustainability, according to Vaccaro.

“CUSAcorp should be there to act as an apolitical organization generating profits for students, that are grown by sustainable businesses that can keep going and can work with students. It should be a job creator for students on campus,” he said.

“If we’re providing all these services and operating at a loss, I don’t think we’re really doing our jobs to be investing in the student experience.

“Yes, you are providing [the student-run group] with a great space and a great location, but if it’s losing money every year and has to be bailed out, there’s a problem there,” he continued.

But Prunty says there are other options.

“I am confident that if finances are the issue, then we have alternatives to the rental agreement,” he said. “There are alternatives that don’t require an increased fee levy.”

As for Velasco, he says ultimately the spirit of the referendum question is to give students the final word.

“We wanted to make sure that students have a say in terms of what [takes over the space], whether it be a co-op café or whether it be another cafeteria, or a Starbucks or Tim Hortons,” he said.

“I just feel that whatever the decision is, students should be consulted.”

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