Bookstore employees displeased

By Stephanie Bradley

Displeased that they were no longer allowed to attend Holmes Student Center Bookstore Evaluation Committee meetings, bookstore employees sent a letter to the committee stating they have had “the rug pulled out from under” them.

The letter was sent because the employees previously had been told by Interim Bookstore Director Neil Kepner that they would be allowed to attend the meetings on university time. According to the letter, employees recently were informed that “only one person per department could attend the meeting and we would have to use vacation time or deduct.”

The employees wrote they “have more to lose than someone attending a union meeting, and yet we are being penalized for trying to protect our interests. Is this another example of openness and fair play?” They indicated earlier in the letter that “other university employees can attend union meetings and other types of meetings without having to use vacation time.”

At Wednesday’s committee meeting, bookstore committee members agreed to allow a limited number of employees to attend the meetings on university time.

Kepner said that instead of allowing the usual 10 to 12 employees to attend, only four or five will be able to attend each meeting.

One of the more important concerns at Wednesday’s meeting was the amount of flexibility that an outside vendor would allow in late book orders by faculty, and the amount of time outside vendors would allow books to stay on the shelves. Committee members expressed concern that an outside vendor would not allow late orders.

Assistant Provost Lynne Waldeland said many books are not stocked at the student center bookstore or the Village Commons Bookstore after a certain length of time in the semester. She said this creates a problem for some students because many of them do not have the funds to buy all of their books at one time.

Committee members said there currently are problems with ordering books at the student center bookstore because it often does not have the books students need for their classes.

Many teachers are angry at the student center bookstore because their textbook orders are not filled, so they always order books at VCB, members said.

In a separate item, committee student member Gregg Bliss said the committee has not discussed the real reason the committee meets. Others questioned whether the bookstore is out to make a profit or just to break even.

Committee Chairman Jerry Johns said, “Service does not necessarily preclude a profit.” Placing profit last on the bookstore mission statement does not necessarily mean it is not important. He said that while the bookstore does not want to run in the red, there might be a trade-off between service and profit.

Waldeland said she does not see a conflict between profit and service. She said many profitable businesses serve customers well. “I don’t have a sense that services will undermine profits and vice-versa.”

Kepner later said the bookstore is supposed to contribute toward the operation of the student center, and “that contribution is through money.” He said the bookstore contributes $250,000 to $300,000 annually to student center operations.

Any lessor of the bookstore space would pay about that amount in rent to NIU, which would make up for the funds lost by the bookstore’s sale, Kepner said. The amount obtained by NIU from the company also is determined by the number of restrictions placed on the lessor. The fewer restrictions, the larger the amount of money the lessor will pay to NIU, he said.

Representatives from Follett’s, Wallace’s, and Barnes and Noble bookstore chains will be in student center room 305 Nov. 9 to be evaluated by the committee in terms of what they can offer NIU.

At the meeting, each company will give a presentation out of the presence of the other representatives. After that, the three will be brought in the room and have questions fielded to them by committee members. The companies will not give the committee bids at this point.

The committee will hear NIU bookstore representatives’ efforts to convince it to keep the bookstore internally operated at its Nov. 16 meeting.