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SU releases survey results on bookstore’s potential privatization

By Cristina Paolozzi, June 18 2021—

On June 14, the Students’ Union (SU) released an update regarding the possible privatization of the University of Calgary’s bookstore. 

The university is exploring the possibility of privatizing the bookstore with the American company Follet. The SU conducted a survey asking undergraduate students to weigh in on their thoughts concerning the potential changes to the bookstore’s operations. With almost 2,000 responses from students, the SU released these results earlier this week, which saw an overwhelming opposition to outsourcing the bookstore to a third-party company. 

In an interview with the Gauntlet, Nicole Schmidt, president of the SU, spoke about the survey results and the SU’s next steps in consultation with the university. 

“I was very pleased to hear that we received such a tremendous response,” said Schmidt on the number of respondents recorded in the survey. “The vast majority of whom were concerned about the bookstore’s privatization, so it was really great to see the survey data results and to see that data that so many students were concerned about this change in operation model.” 

The survey results recorded that 89 per cent of students do not support the university transitioning the bookstore’s administration, and 93 per cent of students believe that the SU should take over the bookstore’s operations. 

“Students have made it very clear to us that they want the university to continue operating the bookstore, or failing that, that the SU should take over,” said Schmidt. “Privatizing or contracting out the operations is a bad deal for students.” 

Schmidt said that the SU has brought this concern up to university administration to potentially discuss the SU running the bookstore as an alternative to Follet. However, Schmidt revealed that the university has shut down all conversation with the SU regarding this matter. 

“As you know already, the SU is a $20 million organization that runs many, many businesses,” said Schmidt. “We also run, I believe, the only successful used bookstore on a campus in Canada, Bound & Copied. So we feel it would be well within our purview to take over operations at the bookstore — unfortunately, the university has shut down all conversation with us in that regard. They are not interested in having the SU take over.” 

Schmidt said she has yet to receive a reasoning as to why the university is reluctant to have those conversations, however, she is not hopeful that this will be an option for students moving forward. 

Although the university has yet to make a final decision on this matter, Schmidt said that a decision will likely be made at the end of June. 

“We haven’t received any additional details or information from the university, but we’re definitely open to further talks and discussions with them,” said Schmidt. 

Schmidt outlined some of the next steps the SU will be taking in order to continue to advocate for students regarding the bookstore. 

“Moving forward, our plan is to release our survey data publicly on our website, which we’ve done,” said Schmidt. “And then also, with the university moving forward with the decision so soon, we’ve been asking to discuss with them further ahead of any final decision being made, that we can make sure students are consulted and that the final decision is in the best interest of students.” 

Schmidt maintains that the best possible outcome for students would be the SU taking over operations of the bookstore. She said that SAIT, Red Deer College, Carleton University and Concordia University — who have all transitioned their bookstore’s operations with Follet — have all appeared to regret their decision to sign with the American company. 

“The concern we have with this company is that they will actually come in and sell student data or use it in a way that violates student privacy,” said Schmidt. “With Concordia University, the institution itself was not allowed to sell student information to third parties, but now that Follet has taken over, student information can be sold, and we’re told that it has been.” 

Schmidt said that if the SU were to take over operation of the bookstore, that they would ensure to maintain affordable course material for students, and would protect student data and information. 

You can read the SU bookstore survey results here.  

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