By John R. Moodie
BELLEVILLE – Loyalist College has banned Matt & Joe’s nightclub from picking up students up on school property with its Thursday-night shuttle service.
The dispute began in early September when representatives of Matt & Joe’s attempted to distribute flyers advertising the shuttle service at the college.
“Within two hours of handing out the flyers, we got a call from Fred Pollitt (the director of student life at Loyalist) saying we couldn’t have a bus on the property,” said nightclub co-owner Joe Lentini.
Lentini said Pollitt informed him that the club would be hearing from the school’s lawyer. “Monday was (the Labour Day) holiday, but sure enough on Tuesday at three we had a hand-delivered letter from their lawyer to cease and desist,” he said.
“I thought there would be some blowback from Fred. I didn’t realize it would be so swift and quick.”
Pollitt said the move by Loyalist was not personal: “The college is enforcing a policy that has been in effect for a long time.”
The lawyer’s letter, which has been obtained by QNet News, states that Matt and Joe’s would be trespassing if the bus were brought onto school property.
“We do not allow unauthorized transportation on campus. This policy has been in place for several years,” said Diane Spencer, executive director of student advancement at Loyalist. “With any situation around the college that could impact student safety or lead to an infraction of policy, we are very careful to review the legality of the situation.”
Spencer said the policy is meant to promote responsible attitudes and choices regarding alcohol use.
“The policy is about the safety of our students. That is always the priority for the college,” she said.
Lentini said the idea behind the shuttle service is to encourage students not to drive after drinking at the bar.
“There is nothing worse for any kind of business, especially the bar business, if someone leaves your establishment, if they consumed alcohol and attempted to drive,” he said. Matt & Joe’s was trying to take a proactive approach, he added.
Lentini charged that the real reason for the college’s ban has nothing to do with policy or safety; it’s about competition, he said. Thursday nights account for the majority of Matt & Joe’s business, and it is also pub night at Loyalist’s pub, the Shark Tank.
“They didn’t really care if the bus was a good idea,” he said. ”We’re trying to do something that promotes safety. Drinking and driving is a huge issue and we’re getting nothing but roadblocks.”
Lentini said that if the school is concerned about students’ safety, it should address the issue of underage drinking during Thursday pub nights at the Shark Tank.
“I don’t understand how they can sit on one side of the fence and say ‘You can’t do that,’ when under their own noses, they have an underage drunk fest on Thursday. I am kind of blown away (that) the faculty and the Loyalist College community would sit back and let this happen every week.”
Selling pitchers of alcohol at a bar where underage students mix with students of drinking age is running a potentially serious risk, he said: “It is hard to monitor, even with lots of security.”
Loyalist’s Spencer, however, said the college takes every measure possible to ensure the safety of students. One of those measures, according to Pollitt, is having police officers at pub nights.
The school does not condone or allow any underage drinking in the Shark Tank, Spencer said.
“The activities of our Shark Tank are highly and carefully regulated to prevent underage drinking,” she said.
“It is always incumbent upon us to be mindful and wary to do all we can to promote safety and good choices.”
Pollitt added: ”I think the reputation of the students-centre pub speaks for itself.”
He also said that the college has been consistent with its application of its policies.
“We don’t make policy directed at any individual or group. It is the policy of the college and it is well thought out.”
Lentini said that Matt & Joe’s started offering the shuttle because he had been contacted by many students requesting the service.
When Lentini received the letter from Loyalist’s lawyer, he contacted his own lawyer to find out what he could do to continue the shuttle service. The lawyer confirmed that the letter was accurate and that the school was within its rights to refuse to allow the Matt & Joe’s bus to come onto college property, he said.
Lentini is continuing the shuttle service, however – the only difference being that the bus picks up students from the roadside off school property.
Matt & Joe’s is thinking of buying a bus outright instead of renting one every week, Lentini said, and would expand the service to three nights a week if there were enough demand.