Campus Co-op Model Needs Reevaluating

    Dear Editor,

    I love co-operatives. They can be extremely successful. I belong to REI, which is a co-op, as well as Canada’s Mountain Equipment Co-op, which I think is the best thing since sliced bread. The co-op model is one of the most underappreciated and ignored business models in America — some of the most well-informed people I’ve encountered don’t understand how co-ops work.

    Contrary to popular opinion, a co-op is not a commune or a collective. It is not ideologically socialist, communist or capitalist. It is a formal organization with owners like any other corporation. The difference with a co-op, though, is that the organization’s owners are the consumers, rather than investors. A co-op exists to serve the people that use it, rather than make money for the people that own it. It is rather like a union, but for consumers — those that use the space get to say how it runs.

    With this understood, though, it doesn’t seem to be the case that the General Store or the Food Co-op are, in fact, co-ops. It is unclear why the default assumption is that the individuals currently there are those who should be there.

    So, a proposal: Given that the university student population is constantly changing, the A.S. Council and Graduate Student Association should consider deciding yearly to whom it should give the space, based on an application process that preserves the spirit and intent of the co-ops while recognizing that no particular set of students have a right, by heritage, to manage the space. Alternatively, it could mandate a genuinely co-op-style governance structure, in which users of the co-op vote on a board of directors who are then responsible for choosing who manages the space.

    Otherwise, it’s just a club with cash registers and a guaranteed space.

    —Leo Trottier

    Graduate Student, Cognitive Science

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