2022 SU General Election Full Supplement

Samantha Lucy

What does U of C control of MacHall mean for students?

Last October, the University of Calgary Students’ Union dropped a bombshell — and a lawsuit — when they sued the U of C for majority ownership of MacHall. The move was unprecedented for Canadian university student associations, and kicked off a year of uncertainty and legal jargon at the U of C.

Almost exactly a year later, the court ruled against an injunction request filed by the SU to continue operating MacHall for the duration of the lawsuit. With the failed ruling, the U of C takes over operation of the student centre this week.

While a lot of people assume this means U of C president Elizabeth Cannon will descend on the building with a legion of armed tanks, the reality is not as dramatic.

Controlling operation of MacHall means a lot of things, but what we know for sure right now is the SU just lost 15 per cent — $1.9 million — in annual revenue from third-party tenants.

With the ruling, rent cheques from third-party tenants like Subway and Bake Chef will now be payable directly to the U of C, and the university will collect the revenue and decide what to do with it. The U of C has said they will funnel some of that money back into SU programs, but they haven’t been clear on the specifics.

The financial loss could directly impact student programming. If the U of C doesn’t dole out money the way the SU wants or agrees with — or if there’s less money than expected — the SU might face some hard decisions. Student fees could rise. Prices at the Den could rise. SU programs could be cut. It all sounds pretty apocalyptic.

But this request failed for a reason. One of the largest factors in granting an injunction request is whether or not it will cause “irreparable harm” to the organization in question. In their application, the SU argued that the loss of $1.9 million will cripple the organization and student services. Justice Kim. D. Nixon, who handled the injunction application, disagrees.

In her ruling, she noted the U of C will maintain the building, collect third-party revenue and use that revenue to operate the building and fund student programs in consultation with the SU. Contrary to popular belief, the U of C isn’t going to evict the SU or replace the Den with a private yoga studio. They’re not going to demolish the Q Centre or burn down CJSW. All they’re really doing is collecting $1.9 million and reallocating it to student services and operation of the building.

So if they are just going to put that revenue to what it went to before, why did the U of C want it in the first place? The answer is likely the same reason for this whole debate  — control.

With this ruling, the U of C has an opportunity to prove they can operate MacHall better than the SU. By the time the larger lawsuit is in full swing, they’ll have concrete data to point to in terms of their success in building management. They’ll also gradually be able to decide space allocation and distribution for the long term. While SU spaces like the Q Centre and Clubs Space are protected under the judge’s ruling, the U of C will decide what goes where the Campus Ticket Centre was or what new food vendors come in. They’ll have more control over the space as a whole.

But it also could cost the U of C a lot more to run the building, at least for the first little while. And there will probably be a lot of kinks to iron out.

The SU spent about half of that $1.9 million operating MacHall — that includes caretaking staff salaries and other expenses. But employees of the U of C will have to be unionized, and a lot of complex contracts negotiated. This won’t be cheap.

And then there’s the money left over after operation costs that the U of C has promised to student programs. The university and SU may agree on how the money is spent and everything will be fine. But unless things are settled out of court before then, the adversarial relationship between the SU and administration — at least regarding MacHall — will continue. These don’t seem like two sides who want to agree on much right now

No matter what, funding to SU services will likely change as a result of this ruling. That’s why, regardless of who’s making the funding decisions, student voice is more important than ever.

If there’s something you care about and think deserves attention, now is the time to make it known.

SU president Stephan Guscott said any decisions on the SU’s part will go through Student Legislative Council, so find your faculty rep and tell them what matters to you. Speak up to university administration at consultations and demand program funding or space allocation for what you care about. And if the SU does have to raise fees to make up for the loss, it will go to a referendum vote in the SU general election. If that happens get your butt in gear and vote.

We’ll know more in the coming weeks as to the exact details of what a U of C managed MacHall means, but know that there are changes coming. It may not be a legion of armed tanks, but it’s still a big deal.

Melanie WoodsGauntlet Editorial Board

Hiring | Staff | Advertising | Contact | PDF version | Archive | Volunteer | SU

The Gauntlet