Despite a SAC-orchestrated protest and a petition bearing thousands of names, the Hart House Board of Stewards decided to uphold its decision to close the Arbor Room in a meeting on Thursday.
Prior to the Board meeting, more than 30 students gathered outside Hart House in freezing temperatures to protest the decision. In addition to many supporters from campus unions, students carried placards that read, “You can’t have velut arbor aevo without the Arbor”-a reference to the university’s Latin motto.
“SAC has maintained that this is a question of priorities for Hart House,” said SAC president Paul Bretscher. “I think the message from students, staff, faculty, and alumni is crystal clear: they want this to be maintained as a student service and that choosing to outsource this service would be to the detriment of the student experience.”
“The Arbor Room has been operating for 51 years, and we want these well-paying union jobs to stay,” said Ron Hoinkes, acting president of CUPE Local 3261. In addition to representing many of the university’s maintenance workers, the local unit represents the ten workers who provide food services in the Arbor Room. Under the terms of their contract, the ten unionized employees of the Arbor Room will be reassigned to work elsewhere in the university.
“Several years ago, there was an attempt to close the Hart House Theatre made on these same grounds-that it was losing money,” Hoinkes continued. “We shouldn’t take that argument seriously now.”
Students had many different grounds to oppose the closure.
“We are concerned about the closure of the Arbor Room since there are very few places on campus for musical performances,” said Vita Carlino, a student representing the concerns of the Faculty of Music which regularly holds performances in the room.
SAC cited Hart House’s high expenditures, including $470,650 per year to fund its 30 clubs, as evidence that they are losing money for other reasons than the Arbor Room.
The Hart House Board of Stewards had originally decided to close the food service portion of the Arbor Room on January 12. Despite the protest that this move ignited, Hart House warden Margaret Hancock started preparations to seek an alternative to the current arrangement, preparations which seek to address some student concerns such as having access to halal and vegan food choices. Thus far, no requirements for labour or environmental standards for the replacement have been put forward.
The Board debated a motion to rescind its earlier move to close the Arbor Room. The Graduate Student Union, SAC, and the Association of Part-Time Students (APUS) were all opposed to the decision to close the Arbor.
A SAC representative presented a petition to the Board to keep the cafeteria open, the online version of which had close to 5,000 names at press time. But several members of the Board-which is mostly made up of student representatives-strongly criticized it, saying it had factual errors and misrepresented the financial details behind the closure.
Joanna Langille, secretary of the Recreational Athletics Committee, described the petition as “meaningless.”
“We have some major problems with the petition; it misrepresents our decision,” said Langille. “We are not losing student space, there are no plans to serve fast food and there are no plans to have a McDonald’s, Tim Horton’s, or anything like that. No replacement has been chosen yet.”
SAC said their board will be meeting to discuss the issue further. But because Hart House is supported by a separate levy, there is little that can be done to compel it to keep the beloved eatery open.