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March 25, 2009

To the Campus Journal:

Recently, members of the faculty in my department (and I suppose those in others) received an email memo from our dean forwarding a note from assistant vice president. of Business Affairs, David May. That note included and attachment of "the latest data collected by Barnes and Noble”  measuring department “performance” in complying with the “booklist drive,” that assistant vice president May describes as “near and dear to my heart.”

Mr. May expressed some degree of exasperation with the level of non-compliance among some departments and faculty.  He pointed out that the Barnes and Noble Corporation will pay UNH $100,000 for the library if 75 percent of the faculty submit their book orders to the campus bookstore via the Blackboard booklist.  The task, he implied, should not be difficult for UNH professors, for “all the faculty need to do is post their textbook lists on Blackboard.”  Mr. May said it is hard for him to understand “why we can’t get this simple thing done.”

But, Mr. May, if the task is simple, and yet there is still non-compliance, then there must be another reason faculty members resist participating in the program.  So, let me explain so that you can understand why some professors will not participate.

To many of us, this is not simply a matter of calculating dollars for the library or balancing college budgets.  There are people and jobs and human relationships also involved.  Many of us have had long-term, and very good working relationships with the Durham Book Exchange.

I first began submitting exclusive book orders with the DBE in the early 90s (maybe even earlier), when, among other things, many of us were looking for ways to reduce the corporate profile of the university.  I cannot remember which of the national chain bookstores was then in charge of the on-campus operation, but the issues were the same then as now.

DBE (www.durhambook.com) is a local small business, indeed an anchor of the downtown business district, and I'm sure they work on a very small profit margin.  They have been in town longer than I have been here, and have always served me well in meeting my textbook needs.  I consider Bill and Lorraine to be my friends.  While $100,000 for the library is certainly important, it is also a coercive measure aimed at putting DBE out of business.  Does anyone doubt that?  That is something friends don't help corporations do to friends.  Sure, DBE will have access to the lists as well, but once Barnes and Noble has the list it will automatically cut into DBE business, especially since many freshman students do not even know about DBE until they get the syllabus that tells them where to buy their books.

While the Dimond Library, Mr. May and the dean may consider the $100,000 necessary and significant, to me it is a little like 30 pieces of silver.  It is not lost on me that if Barnes and Noble is able to put DBE out of business, and gain monopoly status on campus, the $100,000 will seem to them like a small investment (the Barnes and Noble CEO made more than $3 million in 2007, not counting stock options).  In the end, the loss of DBE would not be good for UNH students, or for the Durham community.  

Competition, especially that offered by a local small business to a corporate franchise, is a good thing.

To my mind, Mr. May, this is a moral question, and one for me that is informed by my understanding of Catholic social teaching.  But, whether Catholic or not, many professors will be inclined to support the local small business over and against the interests of the mercenary, multinational, Fortune-500, corporation.  And therefore, I will continue to order my books with the DBE.

James M. Farrell
Department of communication


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