“The Arkansas Public Employees Union opposes the privatization of services, including the bookstore, at the University of Arkansas not only on the Fayetteville campus and all campuses around the state because it comes at the detriment of workers.”
The union is making this official statement after it was reported Oct. 22, 2019, that the University had let bids, due weeks earlier Sept. 25, for private management of the official campus bookstore as well as its Razorback Shop in Rogers. The awarded firm would have to commit to keeping full-time employees (numbering 16 in documents) for six months. The change in operations could begin Jan. 1. The APEU, formerly AFSCME Local 965, represents U of A employees.
The university may “no-award” the request if it “deems the Proposals are not in the best interests of the University,” according to the Oct. 22 Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article “UA Seeks Outside Bids from Firms to Operate Campus Bookstore.” The article quotes experts from around the country that such privatization generally results in lower wages and reduced benefits.
“Such benefits as tuition waivers cannot be replicated by private employers, and it is unlikely the university’s strong retirement plan will be matched by an entity whose mission is profit rather than education,” the APEU statement continues. “And with no competition on campus, the bookstore has little incentive to keep prices low for students buying books.
“Privatization benefits a small group of investors who will seek revenue by lowering the wages and benefits paid to employees and increase the prices and fees paid by students. For instance, the profits of the current university-run book store are dedicated to helping the university. The bookstore at its website declares, ‘As a self-supporting auxiliary group, our profits remain on campus to support programs, scholarships, and facilities that benefit university students. In addition to redirecting our profits to the university, the Bookstore provides donations to programs that are in line with our mission to support the university community.’
“But the profits from a privatized bookstore will go to out-of-state investors. Moreover, the campus bookstore is one of the few opportunities for income available to international students, who are not allowed to seek outside employment.
“More generally, the privatization trend in higher education has not brought the promised benefits. At Chancellor Steinmetz’s previous institution, Ohio State University, the privatization of parking brought an apparent windfall, but the university was ripped off. According to a recent study by an Ohio State engineering professor, that university of lost an estimated $14.5 million on the deal in fiscal year 2018 alone (see Bruce Weide in Ohio State University’s Lantern Dec. 4, 2018). That money ended up in the pockets of foreign investors,” the APEU statement concludes.
The U of A in a press release Oct. 25 announced that the companies Barnes & Noble and Follett would present their cases to win the management bid next week, “Presentations Scheduled for Potential U of A Bookstore Management Vendors.” At their programs to which the public is invited, “each vendor will provide an overview of its experience in operating campus bookstores as well as plans for the operation of the University of Arkansas Bookstore.”