Selling bookstore to a corporation perpetuates privatization of public education

Beginning today and continuing through next week, administrators will meet to get input from three bidders who are seeking the privilege of running the SF State Bookstore, as well as public comment.

Like an exclusive Sotheby’s auction, few seem to know about a meeting that will auction off the right to take students’ hard-earned money, spent in the name of the written word.

Currently, the SF State Bookstore is managed by the nonprofit Franciscan Shops, as it has been since 1954. A vendor under the control of the Cesar Chavez Governing Board, which manages the leases of everyone in the Student Center, from Ike’s to Carmelina’s, Franciscan Shops has operated under a commitment to the University’s students since its creation.

Now, the University is entertaining offers from two corporate entities – Barnes & Noble and Follett Corporation – to take over Bookstore operations. We are concerned, just as we should be concerned whenever a nonprofit entity converts to a for-profit model.

When talking about such a dramatic structure shift, it is our duty as beneficiaries in a public system to question any move that has the potential to further privatize our college experience.

While the consequences of bringing in a corporation to run the Bookstore are still shrouded in speculation and unanswered questions, it is impossible to argue against the good the current Bookstore has done for this campus.

They have donated money from their profits to SF State’s general fund every year – both in good and bad financial times. Those who manage the Bookstore, including CEO and General Manager Robert Strong, are ever-present in the store and accessible to anyone who wants to know more about its operations. Most of its employee roster is filled with SF State students and alum, something that has built a strong base of support for the little nonprofit that could.

As universities in the CSU system have turned one by one to large corporations to manage their bookstore operations, Franciscan Shops maintained its role on campus. It turned to alternative methods of getting students access to books at the lowest price possible as textbook prices climbed and tuition skyrocketed. It was the leading school in terms of volume for textbooks rented in a pilot program last year, saving students thousands of dollars.

For this dedication to students and their pocketbooks, the Bookstore management has been rewarded with a fight to save their nonprofit organization as the University Corporation, a group who manages and controls various aspects of financing for the campus, sent out a request for bids on management of the store.

This is a terrible reward for so many years of dedicated service.

Even a long-established nonprofit like Franciscan does not have the resources to throw at defending their turf from a large corporation. If UCorp decides to bring in a new vendor, the Bookstore will be operated as a for-profit enterprise. It will not only be a new branch for the vendor, but also a source of revenue for UCorp.

Whoever wins the battle will move forward with a new mandate for donations to the University. Rather than a voluntary donation, a new bookstore vendor will fill a contractual obligation that will earn UCorp a big check each year, to be disbursed as its board sees fit.

That’s right. No longer will the Bookstore contribute to the general fund. Instead, this money will have to go through another corporate bottleneck before ending up in the hands of the campus. This is a gross lapse of judgment that may permanently alter the community of this campus.

No longer can students needs be put first when the operators of the Bookstore are mandated to give back a certain amount of money to UCorp. They have to make sure that they meet the minimum profit not only to their own bottom line, but also to the administration’s.

Turning the quad into a yard sale isn’t the answer to the University’s financial problems.

Please, members of UCorp, think about more than the bottom line when you auction off a part of our campus. This may be one sale that can’t go to the highest bidder.

Written by
Latest comments
  • It’s amazing to me how many people assume that the corporation, as an organizational model, is the only kind capable of sowing evil and unethical practices. Public organizations and their staff have proven time and time again they are equally capable of egregious violations of the people’s interest and well-being, often more so than that of their corporate counterparts. Further, if the university is struggling financially such that it needs to go looking for private alternatives to existing business models, isn’t that an indicator that the public organizational model–at least in part–has been insufficient?

    Casting aspersions on a proposed organizational change simply because it includes the partnership with a private entity is an ideological knee-jerk. And I can’t help but wonder if the XPress Staff would have a similar reaction to a more “socially acceptable” corporation, like Apple, opening a store on their campus?

  • On the plus side, referring to an XPress article that ran last month, the Bookstore would now have to pay its new employees San Francisco’s minimum wage instead of the $8/hr plus change it does now.