Chapel Hill: Opinion

An open letter from UNC Student Stores employees

UNC Student Stores employees

Dear Chancellor Folt and UNC Board of Trustees,

UNC Student Stores is an integral part of the UNC community and has been for 100 years. We provide an array of merchandise and services unparalleled at similarly sized campus bookstores. We employ approximately 200 students annually with student salaries in excess of $500,000 per year. We donate all our residual funds to UNC Academic Scholarships ($27 million over the past 60 years of service. $400,000 in fiscal year 2015). We are campus centered, student driven and committed to the entire UNC-Chapel Hill community in every endeavor we undertake.

UNC Student Stores is entirely self-sustaining. We are not run with student fees, we do not take any money from the university and we pay all staff and student salaries, university fees, and debt maintenance from store revenues. None of our salaries or expenditures are funded with taxpayer money.

We truly serve all aspects of the university community. The Bull’s Head Bookshop has been a cultural and intellectual center of campus for 90 years. Our Textbooks and Course Materials Department uses Verba software to ensure our pricing structure is comparable to online markets. UNC Student Stores Printing recently assumed responsibility for all campus printing operations formerly run by Xerox. Our Tech Shop computer and electronics department coordinates the sales and service of the University’s CCI computer program. Our Health Affairs department provides specialized services to the entire UNC Health Affairs campus. Our Pit Stop has the highest sales per square foot of any campus convenience store in the United States. We are a center of campus life and a destination for alumni and Tar Heel family members for shopping during game-day weekends. Our ever-expanding website has doubled online sales over the past three years. Our Clothing and Gifts departments recently surpassed Wal-Mart as the number one seller of UNC licensed merchandise in THE WORLD.

So, why are we reaching out to you? Because on Sept.16, all permanent staff of UNC Student Stores were called into a meeting with Chief Financial Officer and Vice Chancellor of Finance and Administration Matt Fajack, and Associate Vice Chancellor for Campus Enterprises Brad Ives. At this meeting, Fajack and Ives informed us that they were considering outsourcing the store’s operations based on an unsolicited proposal from Follett Corp. While they assured us that no decision had been made, it was hard not to take the administrators’ repeated claims of Follett’s benefits as anything but an indictment of our business and an endorsement of a corporate takeover of our store. They offered no suggestions for improving our current business nor solicited input from the store staff.

Despite the recent recession and difficult economic conditions over the past several years, UNC Student Stores maintained our commitment to student employment and emerged stronger and more profitable. Our Textbooks and Course Materials department recently negotiated a contract with a new wholesale textbook vendor to dramatically increase the dollar amount paid to students during end-of-semester buyback. In the April/May 2014 buyback, Follett (our former wholesale vendor) bought back $55,026 of books from students. In comparison, in April/May 2015, our new vendor, Missouri Book Services (MBS), bought back $294,258 of books from students. MBS also supplies the store with a much higher volume of used textbooks for our customers.

Prior to being informed that administrators were considering outsourcing the store’s operations, the store was in the process of finalizing another contract with MBS to upgrade our systems and improve our online textbook ordering process. These changes would have saved the store nearly $500,000 in the 2016 fiscal year and enabled us to pass this savings on to students as early as Spring semester 2016. These efforts are now on hold due to the administration's response to an unsolicited sales-pitch from Follett, who has already opened a competing store on Franklin Street.

Shopping at UNC Student Stores is not just an opportunity to feel good about supporting student scholarships, nor simply an instance of keeping your money in the University community, it is a way to promote the academic, cultural and historic value of this campus, and ensure the economic well-being of UNC and the entire State of North Carolina. Do not let the promise of “cheaper textbooks” and increased scholarship donations fool you. Neither promise justifies the devastating impact on the University of losing forty nine permanent employees, who collectively have over 640 years of state service, decades of expertise in their fields, and longstanding relationships with the campus community.

We hope you will take the time to visit us and explore what we do. Then investigate the track records of the companies who so eagerly want to get Tar Heel business. You will see that UNC Student Stores is a valuable asset that the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill cannot afford to lose.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Editor’s note: This letter was signed by UNC Student Stores Employees Stephanie Berrier, Grant Martin, Christina Steger, Stacie Smith, Donald Hamm, Donna Stelzenmuller, Frank Bellamy, Toni Horton, Shari Kiziah, Susan J. Cates-Wagner, Kendra Clay, John Williams, Catherine Stotts, Malinda Fraley, Dawn Colclough, Kelly Hanner, George Morgan, Michael K. Mckay, Samuel Morris, Bob Wall, Miguel Jackson, Marilee Eiman, Lee Merritt, Robert Biggers, Ron Wood, Bryce Eiman, Don Morelock, Linda Allen, Nestor Leon Jr., John Ware, Bruni Ramos, Jason Forest Drew, Chuck Sockell, Bob Allred, Claude Piercy, Mike Handy, Lynn Farrar, Paul Hoecke, Brad Jackson and Cathy Hyatt.