Board weighs outsourcing bookstore

College hosts forum with corporate representatives

0
100

The proposed lease of the Lane Community College bookstore to Barnes & Noble Booksellers is inching closer to reality despite major concerns being presented by faculty members. More importantly, some students claim that the Board of Education is attempting to make these important decisions without student input.

At the Feb. 14 Board of Education meeting, Barnes & Noble representatives were in attendance and provided new information during their proposal presentation.

It was a full house with at least another fifteen attendees outside the Building 4 boardroom listening in. There were also more than fifteen statements from the gallery, most of which were regarding the proposed Barnes & Noble lease. With so many speakers, the three-minute maximum was heavily enforced.

The first gallery statement was by Director of Retail Services Tony Sanjume. He repeated his expressed support for the bookstore and its staff. During his statement, he argued that if the bookstore has to be leased out, it should be with local businesses.

Supporting his argument, Sanjume brought up to the Board that since being introduced as a featured product of the store, there have been $20,000 in sales for Hydro Flask, a product locally produced out of Bend, Oregon. Furthermore, he stressed that since the last time he spoke in front of the Board, the department had moved some people around and got their “payroll in-line.” Just before leaving the podium, he gave a quick shout-out in support of Food Services which, like the Titan Store, is facing an uncertain future.

Sanjume did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Robin Geyer, the president of the Lane Community College Employees Federation, expressed frustration with how much maneuverability the administration has given the service directors to solve their own problems.

She explained that outsourcing LCC’s plumbing is a good example.

“On paper, it appears the college is saving money,” Geyer said, “because even the most expensive year since [the college outsourced], plumbing has been lower than the cost of a full-time plumber.”

However, “that view, on paper, does not show that the work by the subcontractor, in some years, has been far fewer hours than a full-time plumber and only accounts for work that MUST be performed by a licensed plumber,” she said, adding that “back when we employed a full-time plumber, he did far more than just the work requiring a licensed plumber. We now have far more bathroom stalls, sinks, etc. that sit with out-of-order signs than we had when a plumber was on staff.”

LCC’s Open Education Resources librarian, Meggie Wright, stressed to the Board that “the ‘O’ in OER only works if the ‘O’ is without restriction,” and that this has been an unclear part of the Barnes & Noble proposal. Prior to the Board meeting with the company’s representatives, all the information gathered about the proposal was coming from the public contract with Clackamas Community College.

“There is language in the CCC contract that restricts the use of OERs and that’s extremely concerning to us here,” Wright said. “Whether that same language will be included in a Barnes & Noble/Lane contract is yet to be seen.”

Two restrictions are highlighted in a report by Open-Oregon Education Resources. The first says that “if your institution does not have a strong faculty-driven OER presence, Barnes & Noble will, by default, become the driver of OER efforts on campus.”  Making this problematic is the fact that “Barnes & Noble is the first to admit they are not OER experts nor do they provide OER support.”

Secondly, “Barnes & Noble provides a monetized model of OER.” This concern, shared by Wright during her gallery statement, was confirmed shortly thereafter by the representatives during their presentation.

Illustration by Quentin J. Piccolo // The Torch

Jane Littlefield, a librarian at CCC, was quoted in the Clackamas Print saying that “there’s language in here about exclusivity clauses of what Barnes & Noble basically dictates, what faculty can and cannot put on their Moodle sites regarding where students would be purchasing their textbooks from. To a lot of us, it read as ‘Barnes & Noble gets to say what you can and can’t tell your students.’”

Of course, the most anticipated agenda item of the meeting was the proposal by the two representatives from Barnes & Noble: Lori Schmit, regional director of Campus Relations, and Russell Markman, Vice President of Campus Relations at Barnes & Noble College.

Markman stressed that, if leased, the bookstore will be “low-cost” and that they would “price match.” The latter piqued the interest of a few Board members, specifically Phil Carrasco. When Carrasco asked if there were any exclusions to the price match guarantee, Schmit said that any third-party seller would be exempt. She explained that the guarantee was mainly targeted toward Amazon.

Statista, a website that records e-commerce by the quarter, reported that in the fourth quarter of 2018, 52 percent of items on Amazon were sold by third-party sellers. This is up one percent from this time in 2017.

Contradicting the concerns made by the Open Oregon report and LCC’s Meggie Wright, Markman said that there will be “one-hundred percent academic freedom.” He was also sure to point out that, if leased, the bookstore would remain relatively how it is, as an extension of LCC, and will not be transformed into something radically different.

Employment in the bookstore is also an issue that has been raised.

When the Barnes & Noble lease was first reported in January, Sanjume had said that in any of the situations presented, LCC’s international students and work-study students would be greatly affected or even barred from working there. This was again voiced by Board member Lisa Fragula, to which Schmit responded that they would actually prefer their staff be students and that international students were especially welcome because “they seem to have the most open availability.”

Adrienne Mitchell, the president of the LCC Education Association, said the union’s concerns are that “Barnes & Noble would maintain staff in the short-term [but] as the employees retire or leave the college, they would be replaced with Barnes & Noble employees, the long-term impacts of which would affect the Lane workforce and local economy negatively.”

When pressed by Carrasco if there were any reasons why Barnes & Noble wouldn’t go with the existing team, Schmit said that would never be the case–unless the existing team chose not to stay.

However, student input is absent.

At CCC, the student government had an active role in the decision on whether to go with a lease or not. Here at LCC, the opposite has been observed.

On Feb. 20, a budget forum was held in a corner meeting room in the Center for Meeting and Learning. There, Nick Keough, one of only two students in attendance and the president of the Associated Students of Lane Community College Student Government, asked, “What are you doing to include students in these budget discussions, and what kind of outreach are you doing?”

LCC Director of Public Affairs Brett Rowlett said that they can announce these meetings in future Titan Times newsletters. At the same time, he blamed the lack of notice to students on the transition of ASLCC emails from Groupwise to Gmail. Keough was quick to deny the accusation and noted that precautions had been taken to prevent possibility.

Keough sent out an email on Feb. 23 to the student body about getting a student presence at the forum.

Another open forum featuring Barnes & Noble representatives was scheduled for Feb 25, but was canceled after a snowstorm closed the college. The meeting has been rescheduled to March 13.