More Cactus Thorns

Cafe decision still hanging

With the end of the semester near, 
the fate of the Cactus Cafe is still unclear.
With the end of the semester near, the fate of the Cactus Cafe is still unclear. (Photo by John Anderson)

When Texas Union management initially decided to close the Cactus Cafe, it was announced as purely a financial decision, intended to cover a 2% merit pay pool for faculty and staff, mandated by University of Texas President Bill Powers. Then, when the administration decided to back away from outright closure, the rationale became all about student involvement. Now both of those claims are starting to fall apart.

Two proposals were scheduled for discussion by the staff/student Texas Union board at its April 30 meeting: 1) "The KUT model," in which the local NPR affiliate would assume management of the venue, and 2) a self-operated model, directly under union management. Despite a request from Student Friends of the Cactus Cafe co-founder Hayley Gillespie that the meeting be moved to a bigger room, after seating the board and reporters there remained room for only 16 students, leaving more than double that number outside. Not that there was much to miss: The person who will make the final decision, Vice President for Student Affairs Juan González, was absent for a funeral. In his absence, Dean of Students Soncia Reagins-Lilly read a statement explaining that González will take written input on the cafe's future until May 7 and then make a "final decision promptly." There was no discussion, no public input, and, since this was the board's final meeting of the academic year, Gillespie said, "It seems that they [board members] have been bypassed, unless they call a special meeting."

In the letter, González said any plan should meet four prerequisites: maintaining the cafe's "cultural heritage," a self-sustaining business plan, increased student involvement, and diverse programming. However, there had already been a list of prerequisites – previously agreed upon by González and the other members of the Cactus Conversations consultation group – and his new list drops the commitments to keeping the cafe open six days a week (in all the discussions of the venue, it's often forgotten that it is open and busy during the day) and continued community involvement. Gillespie, who also participated in the conversations, voiced concerns about the omissions. "I've e-mailed [González] asking him to resend his letter reflecting all six," she said.

So what about that long-forgotten 2% merit pay raise pool? At the moment, it's probably not going to happen in the upcoming financial year. Many departments have struggled to find the necessary funding, and, to avoid inequities, Powers said the pools will not happen unless everyone is eligible. UT Chief Financial Officer Kevin Hegarty said the administration is still trying to find a solution and added, "I expect that within the next week or so we'll have a decision."

But at this point, it seems that the financial impetus for a rapid González decision on the Cactus Cafe has faded.

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Cactus Cafe, University of Texas, Texas Unions

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