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Letter to the Editor: Privatizing the bookstore would be disastrous

The university is looking to sell the University of Calgary bookstore to Follett, an American corporation worth $2.7 billion. Bringing in a private corporation to sell textbooks to students would be kneecapping the student body at its most vulnerable during a pandemic, a recession and yearly tuition hikes. 

Currently, textbooks are sold to students as close to at-cost as possible, keeping prices affordable. However, we all know that textbooks are still unaffordable, which is why the bookstore has three cost-saving programs — the Book Loan program, the Sponsored Students program and the Textbook Rental program.  

The Book Loan program allows low-income and struggling students to loan textbooks from the bookstore for free, has saved students nearly $10,300 in the last year alone and is slated to expand. The Sponsored Student Program partners with third party organizations, such as the Students’ Union, employers, Indigenous bands and more to sponsor books and school supplies for Indigenous, Métis and refugee students, as well as students with disabilities and those receiving Workers’ Compensation Board benefits. Finally, the Textbook Rental program offers students a more affordable alternative to buying a textbook.  

If these don’t sound like profitable ventures, that’s because they aren’t, and they’re not designed to be. As an entity both owned and operated by the university, the bookstore has a mandate to work to make education affordable for all, not turn a profit for rich shareholders thousands of miles away who have no stake in the wellbeing of students.      

Should the university make this decision, they would also be reneging on their commitments to equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI), making a clear move to increase short-term profits at the expense of marginalized students. Putting vital programs in the hands of an unaccountable bookstore corporation with a notoriously substandard track record will hurt the very students the U of C administration claims to be committed to helping. Students will not forget their university’s decision to put profits before racial justice, rendering espoused commitments to EDI hollow and performative.   

Furthermore, the bookstore’s unionized employees, often students whose schedules are currently well-accommodated, would be replaced with precarious employees with no union representation. How would this move look like anything other than another attempt to undermine the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees as they work with students to oppose the government’s budget cuts?

We should all be wary of and anticipate deceptive communications from the university in an attempt to sell this move as beneficial for students.  

The U of C is decrying the bookstore as unprofitable and a drain on the university during a time of major budget cuts, pointing to its net loss over the past several years. Upon closer inspection, however, this is a dubious claim. While the bookstore had been suffering losses, this changed significantly after a shift in management, which saw hundreds of thousands of dollars in profits, as well as $400,000 in rent revenue to the university. The bookstore only saw net losses again due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting severely-reduced student foot traffic. U of C is implying that the bookstore is somehow inherently unprofitable and unsustainable, even when a change in management has demonstrated otherwise, and a large US corporation deems the bookstore a worthy asset.   

University executives may try to claim that Follett is a company well-experienced in textbook delivery. What Follett is experienced in is price gouging students, selling students’ personal data for profit, acquiring contracts with universities that keep students as captive consumers, delivering textbooks late and laying off unionized employees. Some universities have even responded by finding ways to exit Follett contracts and return to their original university-operated bookstore model. Don’t fall for any of U of C’s potential claims that Follett will provide cost-saving services to students as if our current bookstore doesn’t already.  

U of C is trying to use recent unprecedented budget cuts as an excuse to sell off a profitable bookstore that provides crucial services to students. But it should be made abundantly clear — any real savings in operating the costs to the university would be offloaded onto students. It is a recurrent and consistent frustration that the university does not see students’ mental, physical and financial wellbeing as being intrinsically tied to the organizational and financial health of the U of C as an institution.  

We stand united with the University of Calgary bookstore’s employees and management. We condemn any attempts to sell off our university bookstore and call on students to sign AUPE’s petition in order to stay up-to-date with campaign developments and how you can put pressure on the key decision-makers behind this scheme.  

—Students for Direct Action


The UCalgary Black Law Students’ Association 

The Faculty of Arts Students’ Association’s 8th and 9th Councils

Students In Communications Executive Team 

Philosophia Executive Team  

Kula Ring  

YYC Ethnography Lab 

Sociology Graduate Student Caucus Executive Team 

Psychology Graduate Students’ Association

Society of Undergraduate Mathematics – Calgary (SUM-C) Executive Team

Graduate University Mathematics Society

Geography Graduate Students’ Association 

Physics and Astronomy Students’ Association Executive Team 

Physics and Astronomy Departmental Graduate Association 

SU Arts Representative Sofia Huarte Aguilar 

SU Arts Representative Matthew Herring

History Students’ Association Executive Team 

Letters to the Editor published in the Gauntlet‘s opinion section do not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet editorial board. The Gauntlet retains the right to edit submissions for brevity and clarity.

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