By Otto Pippenger
City College’s bookstores were subject to a sharp reduction in operating hours as this semester began. The Follett Higher Education Group, a private company which has operated the college’s bookstores for the past four years made the decision to restrict most outlying bookstores’ operating hours to only one day a week in response to declining textbook sales.
A contentious meeting of the San Francisco Community College District Bookstore Auxiliary on Feb. 13, saw teachers offer heated invective and petitions of complaint against what they felt was the sudden and unclear decision to reduce the hours, which will be in effect until the contract is renegotiated in 2019, barring unexpected changes at the May 1 Bookstore Auxiliary meeting.
The meeting began with executive director Don Newton’s report explaining the cuts as a result of enrollment loss with the privatized bookstores seeing roughly “20 percent loss in profits as opposed to a projected 3 percent growth… with a loss of over $2 million over the last three years.”
Labor was cited as the largest cost, leaving a reduction in hours as the most direct way to offset these losses, while charts shown from last October’s meeting indicated steep drop-offs in textbook purchases after the first three weeks of each semester, reportedly more severe than expected.
Professor Carmen Roman-Murray of the ESL department presented a petition of complaint with 203 signatures from Mission Center students and faculty, as well as similar petitions from John Adams, Civic Center, and Downtown Campus attached to a letter of complaint.
Faculty members described disabled and elderly students waiting outside the bookstore every day of the week waiting to find it open, and classes delayed by the changes, and teacher Alan Fischer added, “of my thirty students, only perhaps ten have the textbook.”
Faculty members voiced a number of strenuous objections centering on the suddenness of the changes.
“It’s been three weeks and we don’t have books. This is a dereliction of duty, this is why you shouldn’t privatize a university service,” ESL professor Edward Murray said.
Murray also criticized the administration, and stated interim vice chancellor of student development Samuel Santos “knew this was happening in January- Center Deans got an e-mail, teachers found out this (the previous) Monday.”
“I think anyone could have seen, as far as the business model is concerned, with most sales in the first weeks, should have been a predictable problem,” ESL professor Mary Marsh said.
While further changes may be made to the schedule at the board’s May 1 meeting, as of March 1, Santos expects the current arrangement to persist.
“The final outcome is, each bookstore will be open one day a week,” Santos said.
For anyone with complaints or hoping to be involved in determining future solutions to the textbook availability issue, Santos is reconvening the Textbook Affordability Taskforce which will explore options such as the Zero Textbook Model currently being considered at the state level, expanded textbook rental, the Associated Students Book Loan Program, and Student Equity Funds.
Anyone wanting to get involved in the task force, which is still being selected is urged to get in touch through Associated Students, the Academic Senate, or the Classified Senate, depending on their position within the school. “We’ve found textbooks to be a real barrier to student access” said Santos.
Ocean Campus will remain in operation five days a week, Downtown Center on Thursday from 10:00 to 1:00 and 5:00 to 7:00, Mission Center on Wednesdays from 9:30 to 2:00 and from 4:00 to 7:00, Chinatown Center on Thursdays from 9:30 to 1:00 and from 5:00 to 7:00, Civic Center on Tuesdays from 9:30 to 1:00 and from 5:00 to 7:00, Evans Campus will remain closed, John Adams Center on Tuesdays from 9:30 to 2:00 and from 4:00 to 7:00, and lastly Southeast Campus will remain closed.