Stop by the Co-Ops

If you’ve managed to avoid the Old Student Center on your daily route to class — or like the A.S. council member who at last week’s meeting questioned whether the student center housed anything other than co-ops, you’ve avoided it completely — you should swing by sometime.

On Wednesday afternoons, chatting art students and political activist-types line up for the $5 Hare Krishna buffet, while the General Store’s ever-pleasant staff members greet dawdling patrons in search of dirt- cheap cigarettes or school supplies. It’s an idyllic scene, and probably the place where UCSD most resembles a college campus.

At that aforementioned Nov. 28 meeting, A.S. Council faced a vote on whether to re-certify the individual co-ops that make up UCSD’s Campus Cooperative Union: Groundwork Books, The General Store,The Food Co-op and Che Cafe, essentially granting the facilities another two years to pay off the staggering debts they’ve accumulated over several years. The vote to re-certify passed, granting the co-ops another two years to reach financial solvency; however, the issue has coincidentally raised an important question regarding what we want our campus to represent versus how much we are willing to pay for it.

It’s no secret that the co-ops are struggling financially. At the meeting, UCEN President Albert Trujillo attributed much of this debt to unpaid rent and utility bills over time. Another likely factor is that many students often opt for the more convenient fast food of Price Center, whose ever-expanding interior has year-by-year resembled a corporate shopping mall more than a student center. Many students have voiced disdain for Price Center’s newest addition of a hair-and-nail salon, set to open this winter quarter.

But whatever the reasons for this debt, the intention of the college co-op is, by its very nature, more ideological than financial. The fact that they aren’t making money is beside the point. While a dollar-menu chicken sandwich from Burger King may be quicker and cheaper than a helping of dubious (though tasty) mush from the Food Co-op, some students would simply rather support a collectively run, student-for- student organization and the strong sense of community that they’ve fostered.

The co-ops have also long offered much more than cheap food and gently used Marxist coffee table books. While the Che Cafe has been hit hardest by debts (it nearly shut down last year, before staff threw a series of benefit concerts that got the Cafe back on its feet), it also boasts a prideful history — from fostering the early careers of classic modern musical acts, to stirring lucrative political discussion and general punk badassery through its association with the BURN! radical politics directory back in 2002.Not to mention, the General Store is the cheapest place to grab a snack or a scantron, and the only store on campus that sells nostalgic video games, cigarettes and a surprisingly solid stock of LPs.

Without question, co-op management should be held more accountable for overdue bills, and perhaps a re-evaluation of rent pay could facilitate this (current rent for co-ops was fixed in the 90s, prior to recent inflation). Conversely, students should also be held more accountable for where they spend their cash. Still, it’s assuring to know that council is willing to cough up a bit of money out-of-pocket in the spirit of preserving a valuable symbol of student community, historical pride and an alternative to on-campus corporate spending.

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