December 9, 2015
UConn bookstore fights university’s call for chain to replace it
by Simon Reichley
The University of Connecticut‘s co-operative book store has put its dukes up after the university signaled that it’s considering replacing the venerable co-op with a privately run retailer. According to Shelf-Awareness, the board issued a request for proposals (RFP) after the UConn Co-Op raised concerns about their long term viability as a self-sufficient client of the university. With operational costs rising following a relocation to the Storrs Center in downtown Storrs, CT , and textbook sales on the decline, the co-op suggested that the university formally absorb the bookstore by transitioning staff to UConn employees and providing financial support during the shift.
However, according to a university spokesperson who spoke to The Hartford Courant:
“In a time when the University has its own financial concerns, we couldn’t afford to take over and heavily subsidize the Co-op, nor to add a large number of new state employees–and the costs that would entail–at a time when we were already laying off workers.”
The co-op has been around since 1975, when a joint commission of students and university governors voted to replace the chain store (a Follett store, of course) that had been serving the school community to that point. Since then it has been a mainstay in the independent bookstore community.
Hot on the heels of a similar controversy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the fight to maintain community control of the bookstore has taken on a special significance. Yesterday, the bookstore issued an open letter, responding to the University’s RFP:
For the past forty years the UConn Co-op, an independent member-owned non-profit co-operative, has served the UConn community including students, faculty, alumni, scholars, Husky fans, readers, local families and people of wide and diverse backgrounds and interests with deep dedication and professionalism. Though disappointed that the University administration is seeking proposals to possibly replace the UConn Co-op, the Board of Directors and staff of the Co-op fervently believe that the Co-op can far better meet the needs of students, faculty and staff than a for-profit national corporation head-quartered in a distant city.
The university has been quick to note that the RFP is simply part of the preliminary review process. While it’s likely that the usual suspects, Follett and Barnes and Noble, have already submitted bids for the opportunity to serve the university and its students, the same university spokesperson insists that “high quality service and flexibility” will be key in considering who will operate the bookstore. She added that the school is encouraging the Co-op to participate in the process and that “it could very well be that nothing changes.”
Simon Reichley is the rights and operations manager at Melville House.