It was in Nicole Sullivanâe(TM)s second month of university that she first surmised there was something suspect going on with the water fountains at her school.

Sullivan, a York University undergrad, noticed that the only water fountain in her environmental studies faculty was broken. Of course, it helped that some students had drawn attention to the fact by painting mournfully blue water drops down the fountainâe(TM)s sides. It turns out the fountain hasnâe(TM)t worked for over two years.

âeoeThereâe(TM)s barely any [water fountains],âe says Sullivan of the York campus, âeoeand the ones that are there have broken down.âe

What might shock you is that Sullivanâe(TM)s experience is shared on Canadian campuses from coast to coast, according to a recent survey organized by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the Polaris Institute.

The study, which received 85 responses from 48 institutions from across Canada, showed that over a third of respondents had noticed water fountains slowly disappearing from their campuses, while 43 per cent cited delays in repairing them.

The survey results also echo an earlier study by CUPE maintenance staff at the University of British Columbia, where it was found that 44 per cent of water fountains were removed or disabled in the first three years after the university signed an exclusivity deal with a soft drink company.

Tony Clarke, Director of the Polaris Institute, believes there is a strong link between the dwindling supply of water fountains and the multi-million exclusivity deals that universities have signed with soft drink companies.

âeoeIt seems clear that Canadian universities and colleges are bowing to pressure from Coke and PepsiCo to eliminate competition to their bottled water brands,âe says Clarke.

Pepsi and Coca-Cola have signed hundreds of exclusive contracts with universities across North America in deals that are worth millions.

At York University, Sullivan notes that students and faculty speculate openly about the intentions of an administration that has made it so difficult to access free potable water. Especially when it has signed a contract to exclusively sell beverages from PepsiCo.

âeoeThere tends to be an abundance of Pepsi machines that have been strategically placed around campus,âe notes Sullivan. âeoe[But] I find it a problem to access free water on campus, besides in the washrooms.âe

The authors of the survey also draw attention to the increasing corporate presence in universities, with many students noticing in their welcome weeks the heavy corporate presence in sponsorships and in food distribution.

In the heart of downtown Toronto, for example, Ryerson University students began attending classes in a newly built facility this week: a sprawling mall full of eateries and a movie theatre complex.

These students, going to school next to what some call Torontoâe(TM)s version of New Yorkâe(TM)s Times Square, will be attending classes in AMC movie theatres. But in order to get to class they must travel up four flights of escalators through fast-food eateries and large electronic billboards.

On a recent visit to the building, could not spot a single water fountain.

There have been several student movements that have spoken out against the soft drink exclusivity deals.

Some have argued that publically funded institutions shouldnâe(TM)t limit choice to consumers, while others have suggested that universities shouldnâe(TM)t be doing business with corporate multinationals that have unethical labour and environmental practices.

Students at the University of Michigan, for example, successfully lobbied for the removal of Coca-Cola products from their school. They supported their request by pointing to reports detailing the environmental pollution emanating from Coca-Cola plants around the world.

In India, for example, toxic cadmium compounds were found in the plantsâe(TM) waste sludge, ground water depletion was rampant, and studies had found the presence of pesticides in the companyâe(TM)s beverages.

At the turn of the 20th century, the temperance movement in the United States was one of the strongest proponents of free public water fountains. Temperance groups began installing public drinking fountains to try and curb the number of people going to saloons to quench their thirst.

State authorities quickly saw the water fountain as an attractive alternative to the common cup (a permanently placed metal cup used by everyone at a public water station), which was blamed for contributing to the spread of disease.

From this history we garner the importance of the water fountain. It was established for the public good and safety âe” two things that should surely trump private profit. Itâe(TM)s time our campuses turned the water fountains back on, and turned off the tap on harmful corporate sponsorship deals.

Tor Sandberg

Tor Sandberg

Tor Sandberg is the program director for rabbletv. When Tor was 8 years old, the two schoolyard bullies, Allen and Roger, made up a mean little ditty about him. “Let’s tear Tor in the Northwest...