On Campus

Selling beer to students shouldn’t be hard

But when campus pubs lose money, shut ’em down

Photo of an English pub by fabbio on Flickr

A few students at the University of Windsor are fighting to save their troubled campus pub.

Many more students are likely asking: but why?

The Thirsty Scholar, inside the CAW Centre on campus, will reopen in the fall as a small licensed cafe and bookshop, after the University of Windsor Students’ Alliance (which owns the space), turned it over to the campus bookstore in a 10-year lease deal, reports The Windsor Star.

You may have heard of the Thirsty Scholar before, even if you don’t live in southwestern Ontario. It’s the bar that closed for a week in March after at least three people were stabbed in an early morning fight nearby.

While that triple-stabbing got plenty of attention, the bigger crime is the $1.2-million in debt that the pub has accrued in the name of University of Windsor students after years of inexplicable losses.

Whatever the reasons for its failure, outgoing UWSA president André Capaldi is right when he says that continuing to prop up the bleeding business does a disservice to students who pay the bills.

So why did Sami Habib, a UWSA board member, tell CBC News he will try to have the bookstore contract cancelled? Why have he and 55 others have “liked” a Facebook page called SAVE UWIN PUB? (I can think of at least one possible reason for all the likes: the pub has 50 employees.)

It doesn’t take an accounting major to realize how unreasonable it would be to keep it open. The $1.2-million debt works out to $100 for each of the 12,000 students represented by the UWSA. That could have bought about fifteen rounds for each student at any of Windsor’s other drinking establishments, which somehow manage to make money without huge annual student subsidies.

Better yet, that $1.2-million could have funded bursaries or textbooks or tuition or a food bank.

The outgoing UWSA executive did the right thing by turning the pub space over to the bookstore.

Other student unions with money-losing pubs—and there are a surprising number of them—should follow the lead. They should also remember the Thirsty Scholar when starting new businesses. The University of British Columbia students planning a brewery might consider this a cautionary tale.

You’d think selling beer to university students would be a sure route to profit. Clearly it isn’t.

When campus pubs lose money, student unions have a responsibility to shut off the taps.

Josh Dehaas is the editor of Maclean’s On Campus. Follow him on Twitter @JoshDehaas. Follow @maconcampus and like us on Facebook to keep up with our daily opinion and university news.

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