Bookstore proposal sparks controversy

By Stephanie Bradley

The proposed “privatization” of the Holmes Student Center Bookstore has sparked controversy between privatization committee members and NIU Student Association Vice President Gregg Bliss.

The dispute centered around a proposed NIU credit card for students that could be used in the bookstore. Bliss said at a meeting Wednesday regarding the privatization possibility that the idea for the credit card was proposed several years ago but was not approved by the administration.

Bliss said the idea was defeated because Dick Boardman, president of the NIU Alumni Board and the owner of the Village Commons Bookstore, put pressure on the NIU administration to defeat the proposal. The proposal possibly would have hurt VCB’s sales, he said.

Boardman said Thursday that he had no comment on the subject and that Bliss’ comments are unsubstantiated. He also said the situation had nothing to do with the Alumni Association.

Bookstore Interim Director Neil Kepner and NIU President John LaTourette’s Assistant Kenneth Beasley both said they have no knowledge of any such deal.

Bliss said the student center bookstore should not be profit-oriented but should be service-oriented. The purpose of the bookstore is to provide services, and if the bottom line is to make a profit, there will be a problem, Bliss said. Any profits the bookstore makes go directly back into the student center.

“Why and who feels the bookstore substantiates its existence by returning a profit? No one’s asking for the stadium or the rec center to make more money. They’re so concerned about profit at the bookstore,” Bliss said.

Kepner said any vendor would be profit-oriented but would have a contract which would force it to pay rent for the space. The committee will need to make a comparison of each of the offers received from the vendors.

The members of the committee had said they might be forced to raise student fees and reduce services if an outside vendor was chosen for the bookstore.

“There are a lot of things that could be done with the bookstore (besides raising fees and reducing services),” Bliss said. He suggested eliminating certain products that the bookstore sells, such as in the music section.

“It’s a paradox the administration offers—either increased fees or reduced services. It’s just a Band-Aid for a lack of effort to improve areas,” Bliss said. He suggested ways to improve business at the bookstore, such as improved parking, making the students more aware the student center has a bookstore, and eliminating products that are not geared toward academic items.

Kepner said the bookstore’s accessibility will not get any better. He said Carroll Avenue soon will be “permanently closed,” and if the visitor’s parking lot was made into a free lot, it would become less accessible than it is now.

What the bookstore can and cannot stock also is a problem. William Herrmann, NIU director of Bond Revenue Operations, said the student center is required to stock certain items even though the items might not make money. He said the VCB, on the other hand, can stock whatever it wants.