NYU is in talks with Follett Higher Education Group, a campus textbook retailer, to have the company take over the NYU Bookstore’s operations effective summer 2017, according to Assistant Vice President for Campus Services Owen Moore.
Moore said that the new partnership between the university and Follett Higher Education is part of NYU’s affordability initiative. Moore also said that this specific action would contribute to its goal of reducing the prices of course materials by 50 percent over the course of the next two years.
“NYU chose Follett because of the firm’s demonstrated ability to provide essential course materials and products at the best price for students,” Moore said in an email to WSN. “Follett also has at its disposal a robust technological platform with a wide variety of user-friendly online software and IT resources for faculty and instructors.”
Moore said that the partnership will allow the university bookstore to offer books for prices that are 15 percent lower than standard industry prices. It will also offer alternative options to textbooks, like rentals and ebooks, so that students can save an additional 25 to 70 percent off the price of a new textbook. Additionally, the partnership with Follett will provide a price match program that allows for more buyback opportunities.
Moore also said that under Follett, NYU’s pay rate for student employees and preference for student employment over outside employment will still be honored.
“Follett Higher Education Group’s commitment to continuity of employment for current NYU employees — honoring salary [and] years of service [is important],” Moore said. “We are still in the early stages of this process, and terms have not yet been finalized.”
A bookstore employee who works in the general merchandise department of the bookstore and wished to remain anonymous said that bookstore employees received an email from Moore in early April informing them of Follett’s potential takeover and that their jobs would still remain intact.
However, even with this assurance of employment, some bookstore employees are concerned about Follet’s takeover of its operations. The anonymous source said that she and her union, UCATS Local 3882, don’t believe that Follett would actually provide better prices on textbooks.
“We would like to remain in our jobs, and we would actually like to remain in our union [as] employees of NYU,” the source said. “NYU, as far as I know, is claiming that Follett would be beneficial to the students in terms of student customers [in] getting them better prices on textbooks, but I’m not necessarily sure that’s true.”
The union researched Follett and found that the company runs primarily on part-time and temporary employees, has had massive layoffs and has overcharged students in the past, according to an email sent to union members by its organizer. Additionally, the group found that some universities have taken their bookstores back after Follett promises did not hold true.
In a meeting on Friday between NYU personnel and members of UCATS Local 3882, the union presented its findings to the university. According to an email to union members, the university personnel said that there was no information to be shared and that no contract has been signed with Follett yet.
The university personnel did not answer questions regarding which options were being considered and the logistics of the decision-making process, but said that they would listen to the union’s concerns.
The anonymous source was especially concerned over a recent lawsuit involving Follett Higher Education. The group settled a $3.5 million class-action suit over its misuse of phone numbers that customers gave them. The group illegally started contacting these customers using automatic dialers.
“I think what’s important is that this whole move is based on what’s better for students, when again, these people settled the $3.5 million class action,” the source said. “I don’t know that that’s better for students, that they would have had to admit to that — the fact that they’re settling for the whole lot — about misusing students’ information [and] customers’ information.”
It is unknown whether or not this issue was brought up during the meeting between NYU representatives and the union. However, the source is still concerned over the truth of the university’s claims about Follett, especially in terms of its promise of continued employment.
“That’s premature, as opposed to another email that would have said not much is known period — because we are in talks, not much is known,” the source said. “I think that to go ahead and say, well, employees generally get to keep their benefits and their salaries — I know that I wouldn’t say something like that if I didn’t know [if] that would hold true.”
The source believes that the school’s vagueness is not fair to its employees and that the university should keep in mind that the bookstore employees are essential to the school’s operations.
“This move [is] full of hubris because they’re doing this, and meanwhile we’re the same group of workers they’re going to be counting on to handle graduation,” the source said. “Along with the beginning of the year, the end of the year is the busiest time of the the year. So this same group of workers whose jobs they’re jeporadizing [by] keeping us in the dark are the same group of people they’re going to be counting on come graduation.”
A version of this article appeared in the Monday April 24 print edition.
Email Natasha Roy at [email protected]