Opinion: All we can do now is hold Barnes & Noble accountable
Though UNC Student Stores has kept its 100-year-old name, much has changed inside since Barnes & Noble took control. Registers have moved, new faces have smiled from above new name tags and familiar faces have moved on.
The privatization process began with an unsolicited request in July 2015 from Follett to lease the Student Stores. This board has discussed at length the swift and opaque nature of the decision.
As we say goodbye to what we loved about Student Stores, we must hold Barnes & Noble accountable to its promises. Indeed, the differences between the rhetoric and actuality of privatization are already coming to light.
One of this board’s favorite parts of the Student Stores, the Bull’s Head Bookshop, has seen massive shifts in stock and employees. It seems that Barnes & Noble has kept its promise of adding thousands of new titles. But by adding thousands of copies of the Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook and pseudo-scientific self-improvement books, Barnes & Noble is turning its back on the academic nature of Bull’s Head, something important in a college campus bookstore. Because Barnes & Noble predetermines display table selections for all its bookstores, thought-provoking and critical texts have been swapped for whatever books best sell, regardless of educational value.
We understand the need to generate a revenue source for student scholarships, which Barnes & Noble has promised to increase. We just miss when that revenue came from finger puppets of our favorite historical thinkers.
The beloved manager of Bull’s Head moved soon after the takeover, prompting many Bull’s Head student employees to quit. Some remaining student employees are being scheduled for two to three times as many hours as they have had in the past with less flexibility in general.
Barnes & Noble’s promise to maintain a similar work environment has gone unfulfilled as employees continue to quit. This, in turn, has pushed remaining employees to cover long shifts with few options.
Indeed, the emphasis on hiring student employees as a means for student revenue seems to have dissipated. More and more employees come from outside the University, even when Barnes & Noble’s pitch relied on helping students first.
But despite these problems, we recognize that Barnes & Noble was by no means the worst possible option. While we might have been happier with Amazon only controlling textbooks, and commend them for pulling out in protest of House Bill 2, price-matching on textbooks will certainly result in lower prices for students. And while we think that the missing “Barnes & Noble” and “Starbucks” logos might lack transparency, we appreciate that UNC still appears across the stores.
In the end, things always change. We can be upset that we as a student body had little say in the decision and we can be angry that our peers who are employees are not being treated as promised. But we can also hope that Barnes & Noble does add what it claims it will to the community.
If it creates millions of dollars of scholarship funds, we will welcome the socioeconomic diversity those scholarships can promote.
We all must hold Barnes & Noble accountable to its promises. If not, we will have lost a unique place at UNC for nothing.