The CHE Cafe, the University, and You
(last updated November 9, 2014)
LAST MONDAY, November 3, faculty members (including one board member and other members of the SDFA) attended a snap meeting with Chancellor Khosla, Vice-Chancellor for Student Affairs Juan González, and Assistant Vice-Chancellor of Student Life Gary Ratcliff, in order to discuss the escalating standoff between the administration and the students, alumni, and community members representing the CHE student collective. For those faculty, just tuning in, here’s a brief background of the CHE café and collective, which is taken from the CHE collective’s website: http://checafe.ucsd.edu/?cat=3.
The C.H.E. Cafe building is one of the complex of facilities on the campus which are funded by self-assessed student body fees, not UC Regents’ funds. Because of this distinct status as student-fee funded facilities, it is the policy of the UC Regents and of the UCSD administration that a student-controlled board has jurisdiction over space allocations to student organizations housed in the Student Center, the Price Center and the C.H.E. Cafe building. That board is the University Centers Advisory Board (UCAB), comprised of student representatives and non-voting representatives from the faculty and campus staff…. Built in 1942, the C.H.E. Cafe building is one of the last of the original Camp Matthews, World War II era buildings still in use on the campus and also became the first student center on the new UCSD campus in 1966…. The C.H.E. Cafe, for over 34 years, has been one of the only (some say the only) Safe Space for campus events. Rather than recognizing the invaluable contribution the Cafe’s Safe Space Policy has made to the lives of women, LGBTQ and other minority students, faculty, staff and community members – especially high school students — the UCSD administration is arrogantly threatening to destroy it.
That should roughly bring us up to the events of the past year. But this is precisely where things get fuzzy:
- Last year, the Graduate Student Association (GSA) voted to “decertify” the CHE student collective. As one administration official writes:
“All coops must be certified by the both the AS and GSA as a condition to have their lease extended. In the spring of 2014, the GSA Council reached the conclusion that the Che Collective was not acting in the best interest of students and voted to “decertify” the Che. It approved a five-page resolution outlining the GSA’s rationale for decertification citing several factors including the Che’s loss of its non-profit status, delinquency paying rent, and failure to provide required financial statements to the university. It also expressed concerns about using student fees to renovate the Che facility….”
According to the CHE Café website: “The UCSD administration [has] completely bypassed UCAB’s [see above] jurisdiction by filing the eviction lawsuit against the C.H.E. Cafe. The alleged “de-certification” action by the Graduate Student Association (“GSA”) that the Administration also relies on was equally flawed and is being challenged by the Collective in court.”
- Even as members of the CHE Collective attempted to question the legitimacy and due process of this decertification with the university administration, the student co-op was prevented from meeting its other obligations (namely, being allowed to pay their rent and use the facility). Rather than considering the Collective’s request(s) for dispute resolution, the University served papers for the eviction of the student cooperative from the premises; and the matter went to court.
- According to a media advisory released by the Collective, “the Administration had acknowledged [in court] a request for dispute resolution had been made but had argued it was mooted by a previous lawsuit filed by the Collective that was later dismissed. In addition, the Collective was reassured in various conversations that it was protected by a ‘holdover status’ provision in the lease and that it did not need to worry about an eviction. Completely disregarding these earlier reassurances, the University filed its eviction lawsuit and argued in court that dispute resolution was never formally requested by the Collective. Ignoring the true facts and history of negotiations, the Administration was able to convince the Judge that the formal requirements for invoking dispute resolution had not been followed by the Collective, and the Court ultimately held that thus the Administration had a right to terminate the lease with the Collective” (http://thechecafe.blogspot.com/2014/10/october-22nd-press-release.html).
- This should bring us up to speed with the present. The notice of eviction, which was upheld in the recent court decision, can be handed down any day now. Will the administration post the eviction? If they do, how will the Collective respond? And what about the university and San Diego community that has a stake in the continued operation of the CHE café as it has in the past? Conversely, can the administration opt to withhold the eviction and enter into dispute resolution with the Collective?
These were some of the questions that concerned faculty (including myself) had in our Monday meeting with Chancellor Khosla. We are grateful to the Chancellor for making the time to address these concerns. We were also grateful for the presence of Student Affairs VC González and Assistant Student Life VC Ratcliff, as some of us are still trying to get to the bottom of the allegations and counter-allegations leading to the standoff. One particular bone of contention concerns the questioned safety of the building, with González and Ratcliff alleging that the condition of the premises is in violation of various safety codes. An Interim Campus Fire Marshal’s report dated September 18, 2012, lists a number of measures that should be taken to correct building deficiencies. Strangely, a more recent Follow-Up Inspection by the Fire Marshall held Thursday, April 17, clears the Che Café facility from any violations: in the words of the associate director of UCSD university centers: “The Fire Marshal [is] extremely pleased at all the efforts that have been made and has signed off on the inspection…thank you for all your efforts in keeping a safe facility” (email correspondence to email@example.com, May 25, 2014). Other safety allegations mentioned by the adminstration during last Monday’s meeting included the consumption of alcohol by underage teens on the premises, the overcrowding of the facility during program events, and loud music.
Faculty members urged the Chancellor, VC González and Assistant VC Ratcliff to consider: a) the historical and cultural importance of the CHE Café and student cooperative on campus [see Charles Thorpe’s letter here]; b) the educational importance of student cooperatives as a whole; c) the many vital connections the CHE Café has established with San Diego communities as a Safe Space, and; d) the national reputation of the space as a venue for college music and performance. We also expressed our grave concern about the likelihood of a confrontation that would involve acts of civil disobedience on the part of the CHE Collective and its supporters; and possibility of police intervention. In the wake of the events surrounding the aftermath of the Compton Cookout several years ago, which culminated in the occupation of the Chancellor’s office by students and faculty, the disruption and trauma felt among many of our UC community members — predominantly students — should alone give the administration pause before following a course of action that may lead to the possibility of conflict between our students and the police. The UC Berkeley incidence of police brutality against students and faculty, and the UC Davis pepper-spray incident, both in 2011, offer a sobering glimpse of the escalating standoff between the Collective and the administration. In the event of conflict, everyone loses.
In the follow up to our meeting, Literature department chair Stephanie Jed emailed VC González and Assistant VC Ratcliff in the hopes that both sides would continue to work toward a resolution that would avoid a standoff. She writes: “I hope…that you are not required by law to do anything that will put UCSD in an us vs. them position with the students. I know there is a better way to mediate this situation with the students. If you are able to commit to no lockouts or forcible removals, I think this would go a long way to …. achieve a positive plan and solution.” (email, November 5, 2014). With the permission of VC González, we have posted his response in its entirety below (see Appendix 1). Some of the main points from his response are as follows:
- “During the time student leaders from the University Centers Advisory Board (UCAB), AS, and GSA consider funding renovations to the facility, the facility should not be used for events and activities.” [N.B.: Since a referendum on funding renovations to the facility would not take place before May 2015, this means that the CHE Café would be shut down until next year];
- “The Che Collective no longer has a lease with the university to use the facility. It has standing as a student organization and has been offered an office and lounge at the Student Center and is able to use other event space at the university.”
What is the university community – students, faculty, staff, administration, and any and all communities tied to UCSD – willing or prepared to do in order to resolve the impending crisis? While the GSA and AS student governing bodies, in addition to the SDFA, have recently written statements requesting the administration to stay the impending eviction of the CHE Collective from the CHE Café, the administration, as far as we can tell, seems unwilling to do so. Or are they? And if they aren’t, who will ultimately take responsibility for the events that ensue? The CHE Café? The administration?
Or me and you?
Appendix 1: VC Juan González’s response to concerned faculty member Stephanie Jed’s email dated November 6, 2014:
Thank you for your email. Our understanding from our meeting this week is that we reached consensus on several points.
The coops, including the Che Collective, are a significant aspect of the student experience that the university supports. Health and safety is paramount. The aging Che Facility should be up to code, including the addition of a fire sprinkler and alarm system. During the time student leaders from the University Centers Advisory Board (UCAB), AS, and GSA consider funding renovations to the facility, the facility should not be used for events and activities. The facility can be used if it is renovated, which requires UCAB, AS, and GSA to agree the facility should be renovated and find a way to fund the renovation using student fees.
We will encourage UCAB, AS and GSA to engage in in-depth discussions about renovating the facility promptly and earnestly. We cannot assure you of what the outcome will be but we can assure you the university has no plans to alter or remove the facility while the student governments are considering its future. The decision about the fate of the facility is in the hands of the student governments and the student body if a student fee referendum is required to fund the renovation.
In the meantime, to ensure public safety, the Che facility should not be used in any manner until the facility is brought up to code. The Che Collective no longer has a lease with the university to use the facility. It has standing as a student organization and has been offered an office and lounge at the Student Center and is able to use other event space at the university. We ask that you support public safety and urge the Che Collective to vacate the facility and work with the student governments toward a long-term solution.
I trust you will share this information with your colleague faculty and students. My last point, I have tremendous faith in our student governance leaders; thus we rely on their discussions, analysis and guidance. I hope Che students can actively work with our student leaders.
Juan C. González
VC González also sent Dr. Jed a note regarding space for the Collective, please see below. (This denotes our desire to attend to the needs of the Collective while they engage in discussions with the student leadership organizations)
I wanted to share this information that Dr. Ratcliff sent me late this afternoon. Please know that we are attempting to find space for the Collective. This is over 600 sq ft that is much more that other student organizations. Once again,
we are hoping to give the Collective an opportunity to prosper and continue in a safe environment. Further AS and GSA are aware of this effort and are supportive. I continue to hope the Collective students will engage the AS GSA leaders over the future of the facility.
Juan C. González