U of R quietly moves to privatize bookstore

Books Jessica Ruscello

Other experiences cause for concern

During last month and September of 2019, bookstores within different communities in the State Center Community College District (SCCCD), as well as in Canada, were privatized as a part of Follett Higher Education, Inc. Recently, the U of R announced that the campus bookstore in Regina would also be turned over to a “partnership” with Follett. In an email, student affairs said the transition would be taking place over the next few months, with a re-launch under the Follett banner in March. Concordia University bookstore (called Book Stop) became a part of Follett Canada in February of 2020.

To gather more detail on the actual impact on students with the privatization of the bookstores, we can look to the bookstores at Fresno City College and Concordia University. The decision to enter privatization, with regards to both bookstores, was met with either negative or eyebrow raising reactions from the student body at those campuses.

The following, which were retrieved from The Rampage, the Fresno Community College student paper, shows different anonymous student reactions to the decision to privatize:

“The bookstore failed the students.”
“I am overall VERY displeased with the delays in obtaining books this fall.”
“I am struggling in more than one class because of a lack of textbook/scantron.”

As to why these negative reactions came about, according to the same Rampage article, the students of the Fresno Community College had been dealing with issues such as empty shelves and errors with online vouchers that resulted in a lack of necessary materials.

The error with the online vouchers coincided with the bare bookshelves as vouchers via the transitional period would not scan. The students of Fresno use “Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS) and CalWORKs vouchers” for the purposes of limited bookstore assistance.

According to the article, lack of usable EOPS and CalWORKS vouchers came as a result of a malfunction in the system, prompting a response from director of EOPS, Thom Gaxiola-Rowles:

“I am surprised because this was a company that works with other institutions and large institutions, and yet for some reason, it appears they don’t know how to work with an educational institution.”

As far as direct student impact, one example listed in the Rampage article is that of Jayleen Gonzales. “I was getting my money from EOPS, so I had a limited amount of time to get my books,” she said. According to Rampage, “Gonzales said the bookstore will not have her textbook until the end of the semester, far beyond the EOPS deadline. Gonzales scrambled for the money to turn to Amazon for her books.”

Given the above, it should be noted that in research done by those who were against the idea of privatization of the Fresno Community College bookstore, rather than going with Follett Higher Education, Inc, Barnes and Nobles was presented as the first choice “if the district must privatize.”

At Concordia University, the need to privatize was said to be necessary due to financial difficulties. Roger Coté, vice-president of Services stated that, “because of changes in the publishing industry, Book Stop [had] been struggling financially for some time now.” However, according to The Link, Concordia’s Independent Newspaper “Concordia’s public financial statements dispute Coté’s claims … While retail store revenues did decline in the 2018-2019 fiscal year as compared to the year before, the store made over $300,000 in net profits in the year prior to the sale.”

A change to the bookstore’s privacy policy was also a significant issue in the mind of students. According to the same Link article, the policy change that occurred “allows Follett to work with third-party advertising and analytics providers, which can in turn collect information about students’ usage of the Book Stop.” For students of Concordia wishing to opt out, “this privacy policy is mandatory for all Concordia students who purchase materials through the Book Stop.”

For those who are unfamiliar, this third party-oriented structure can allow for ad campaigns to be targeted more directly towards students, this being one of the issues on top of the overall privacy issue.

Having looked into both the Fresno and Concordia, this provides some insight into the various aspects that come along with bookstore privatization and its effect on the student body.

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