Of beer, and pop, and choice

In a recent edition of the Calgary Herald, Sara MacIntyre, a graduate student in Political Science, complained bitterly that upon arriving from Western Ontario she discovered that she could not enjoy a Big Rock beer at the Den on campus. No Traditional, no Grassh√∂pper, no Warthog. Why? Because the Students’ Union executive banned Big Rock products. In a secret deal, the su handed a monopoly to Molson, an “eastern behemoth,” to use Ms. MacIntyre’s words.

Her article raises some fundamental issues. The first are those of equality and of freedom of choice. For the Students’ Union, that equality was defined as being Orwellian. We are all equal, but some (the su executive) are more equal than others (the 30,000 students, staff and faculty of this university). At the very least, it would have been nice to hear what Faustian deal was struck. Did the su get $5,000, or $50,000, or $500,000 for selling out to Molson? And for how many years did they sell our freedom of choice? Five, ten, fifteen? And for what has the money been spent? To lower tuition fees? To subsidize the student newspaper, the Gauntlet? Or to pay for the su expansion?

The beer battle is neither the first nor the only one conducted on campus. To the best of my knowledge, there has never been full disclosure of what the offers were from Pepsi and from Coca-Cola for a similar monopoly. Nor of what that monopoly payment has enhanced. The Library? Athletics? Parking lots? In short, there needs to be more open consultation before we arrive at a state where all of us at the University of Calgary must arrive in Ford cars, start Dell computers, use Hammermill paper, send packages out by dhl, relax over a Starbucks coffee, and of course, satisfy our hunger underneath golden arches.

What makes the beer battle so repugnant–the third issue that needs to be aired–is that the Students’ Union has turned its back on a local booster of, and a serious stakeholder in, the university. Beginning October 16, Big Rock University will once again open its doors to lectures by University of Calgary faculty; its exquisite chef, Klaus W√∂ckinger, will stay late to serve up a delightful meal; and its curmudgeon ceo, Ed McNally, will open the taps to welcome students and professors, farmers and ranchers, business people and retirees, alike. All of the proceeds from those lecture evenings go to University of Calgary student scholarships. To date, that has amounted to roughly $100,000 in cash payments to the university. When Mr. McNally informed the SU of this fact, he was curtly informed that this was of no interest.

What is to be done? Let us return choice and equality of opportunity to the campus. Let us allow tastes (the market place) rather than a select elite to make decisions that affect 30,000 people. Restore to us the freedom to choose. After all, that is one thing that sets democracies aside from less savoury alternatives.

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