Student representatives to vote on several options at upcoming meeting
The UVic Graduate Student Society (GSS) Executive Board is calling for the Graduate Representative Council (GRC) to vote on the fate of the Grad House restaurant due to ongoing financial concerns.
The meeting was initially anticipated to take place on July 30, but that date was not formalized by the Executive Board after backlash from graduate students. On July 24, the Executive Board announced on their website that the GRC meeting will take place on August 13 at 4:30 p.m.
The initial options discussed by the board will see student representatives decide upon several possible options, including whether to subsidize the ongoing operations of these two businesses, maintain just Side Project — a coffee shop independent from the Grad House also located inside Halpern Centre for Graduate Students — or close both restaurants as of September.
However, Mehdi Hashemi, Chair of the GSS, notes that the meeting is not specifically about temporarily closing the Grad House.
“Closing the restaurant is not the first option,” said Mehdi Hashemi, Chair of the GSS. “I understand the anxiety now, but that’s just one possibility among the others.”
When asked for the primary reasons that could lead to the closure of the Grad House, Hashemi said, “Any restaurant needs to consider all of its options when faced with significant financial stress.”
“No discussion about any permanent closure of Grad house has ever been raised,” he clarified. “The restaurant has been under significant financial stress since reopening in 2018. The board has been working hard to find ways to ease the restaurant’s financial stress.”
Staff of the Grad House were made aware of this situation at a meeting last Friday, which had been arranged to discuss a management review. At the end of the meeting, they were informed of the upcoming vote and the possibility of a closure of the Grad House.
According to Celia Mason, Front of House Coordinator for Grad House, the reasons explained to the staff for this vote were that the restaurant is not making a profit, not busy enough, and has been supplemented by the GSS’s operational funds.
“But it’s a lot more complicated than that,” Mason said. The Grad House closed for eight months last year for a renovation, and Mason stated that the restaurant’s opening date was repeatedly pushed back despite the project’s competition. “That took a lot of our finances away, we’ve lost lots of customers because of that extended closure.”
Both Hashemi and Mason expressed that finances have been a problem for the Grad House for a long time, even before the renovation.
At the GRC meeting, Grad House staff will be given time to express their feelings on the motion being put forth. However, the meeting — which was initially planned for July 30 — would have been held during the restaurant’s hours of operation, so not all staff could attend.
If the GRC votes to close the Grad House and Side Project, about 20 unionized staff including baristas, servers, and kitchen crew members are anticipated to be terminated. Mason believes that the Executive Board chose to put the motion forward at this time to not break the union’s contract, and provide adequate notice of termination prior to September.
“The people who will be losing their jobs are all students who work on campus and rely on the job to pay for their lives, for school and classes,” she said.
Hashemi met with the board and concerned staff on July 22 to discuss potential options, and expressed in a phone call with the Martlet that this is not an action the GSS has taken lightly.
“We just want to make sure that we have proper consultation, because that’s a decision that’s going to impact all of our members and the services that we are offering them,” he said.
“This is not going to be a vote for closing [the Grad House] or not — this is basically us going to our members and saying ‘the situation is not good, it hasn’t been good [for] the past few years, and you need to help us to figure out what you want,’ because it’s important what the members want.”
However, it is student representatives on the GRC, not the fee-paying graduate students that make up the GSS’s membership, who will vote on this motion. There are 49 student representative positions on the GRC, but only 31 current representatives. The meeting needs to meet a quorum of 50 of active members.
“They are choosing to hold the meeting at a time where grad students’ voices will not be heard,” said Mason. “It doesn’t seem like a mistake why they chose this timing.”
In response to rumors of the possible closure of the Grad House — and a flyer informing students to contact their graduate student representatives on this issue — graduate students took to email to express their discontent.
One of these students, Chelsea Dunning, was told that the Grad House was facing closure while at lunch to celebrate a friend’s defense of their Master’s, but was distressed that no official notice, time, or place had been issued for this meeting.
Another graduate student, Julia Horne, expressed in her email that she feels the space offered by the Grad House for graduate campus culture is not available elsewhere — particularly the wall where students who successfully defend their Master’s are commemorated in photos.
“There are very few places on campus which not only offer a reprieve from the daily grind of academia, but also provide opportunities to interact with other graduate students outside of one’s own department,” said Horne. “Supporting the Grad House means supporting graduate students.”
In a statement released on July 24, the GSS Executive Board released a list of clarifications regarding the GRC Special Meeting, where they noted that the urgency of their response to the situation is due to the latest financial updates.
“We believe that this is a conversation that we must have,” the board said in their statement. “We are committed to keep working hard to find a solution and a proper plan for our lovely Grad House and Side project.”
This article was updated on July 25 at 1:50 p.m. to include new information about the GRC meeting and statements from the Executive Board.