Grounds of Being and Divinity School Reach Financial Agreement in Rent Dispute

Grounds of Being will pay $9582.63 for its space in Swift Hall under the year-long agreement.


Eleanor Hyun

Grounds of Being.

By Caroline Kubzansky, Managing Editor ('20-'21)

Grounds of Being (GoB) has reached an agreement with the Divinity School to pay for its space in the basement of Swift Hall, but the charge will be significantly less than the initial quote of $61,000 which had raised concern that the beloved student-run coffee shop might have to close.

Under the one-year agreement, Grounds of Being will pay for its own utilities and for 1/8 of the space costs, a yearly total of $9582.63 as of this month. The coffee shop had not paid the Divinity School for use of the space prior to this.

“This charge is not to be thought of as ‘rent’ but a fee to cover ‘building depreciation, interest expense on debt taken out on capital projects such as roof repair, etc and facilities management costs,’” the statement says.

News of the budding dispute between Divinity School administration and GoB emerged in fall quarter after several months of negotiations. The Divinity School was originally going to charge Grounds of Being a yearly $61,000 in rent as a way of ameliorating the Divinity School’s $270,000 debt, for which it became solely responsible following the University’s budget reorganization. Grounds of Being went public with the dispute earlier this quarter in an open letter.

Grounds of Being has also agreed to accept Maroon Dollars starting in June 2018, but will not be obligated to switch to the University’s point-of-sale system, transaction software which other student-run coffee shops must use. A five-member “Faculty Collaboration Committee” has also formed as a conduit between the coffee shop and Divinity School administration, though it will have no final-decision power without Grounds of Being’s input.

The statement explains that given the level of acrimony that has frequently accompanied the negotiations, both parties have agreed to increase their level of financial transparency.

“The events of the last two quarters have made extremely evident the necessity of increased financial transparency by both DSA/GoB and the Divinity School in facilitating continued and mutually beneficial collaboration,” the report says.

The committee recommended that the Divinity School do what it can to make its administration more financially transparent, and Grounds of Being has agreed to begin meeting with Associate Dean for Administration Sandra Peppers. The coffee shop will also send Peppers quarterly financial reports.

Grounds of Being leadership and Divinity School administrators will meet in January 2019 to assess the efficacy of this agreement. Going forward, all agreements will be valid for between two and five years, and made public in the interest of transparency. The agreement stipulates that the required operating fee for GoB may increase no more than 10 percent for the next year.