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Speaking Out

More Letters on Bookstores
Continuing a debate begun last week in these pages, several writers comment on the report of the University Councils Bookstore Committee, published October 14. Dr. Robert Regan, who as chair of the Committee responded to writers last week, said he would reserve further comment until the November 12 Council meeting when the report is scheduled. --Ed.

Booklists & Academic Freedom
Unmentioned in the debate about on-line course book lists is the issue of academic freedom. Do not I as an individual teacher enjoy the freedom to recommend the bookseller for my classes and to decide whether or not to place my book lists on line? And would this freedom not be infringed if the provost or some other body were to impose regulation on this liberty?

My institutional memory is ten years longer than Professor Regans, and I can recall no instance in which "monopolies were given to ideological friends." For thirty years I and many of my department colleagues have recommended the Penn Book Center as our bookseller of choice. We do so, in part, because they are accommodating, personal, interested, efficient, and un-bureaucratic. But more important, some of us believe that a serious bookseller is vital to the intellectual life of a university community and that our students should be encouraged to browse their shelves for the sake of books, undistracted by cosmetics, T-shirts, and beer mugs.

--Cecil L. Striker,
Professor of the History of Art


In Any Shopping Mall
I am distressed by the content and tone of the Bookstore Committees report (October 14) and its chairmans response (October 28). The reports paean to "free and open competition" masks the real danger of the Bookstore Committees proposal: to drive local independent bookstores out of business by encouraging students to purchase their course books at the Barnes & Noble-run University bookstore. There cannot be a "level playing field" (Regans words) when a national chain store, supported by the University, is permitted to lift course lists from departmental home pages without instructors consent. Nor will a "lively and competitive" market prevail when two of the three players cannot take advantage of high-priced advertising and the resources of a multinational conglomerate to protect their fragile niche.

Professor Regan suggests that it is "disadvantageous for students" to purchase their books at bookstores other than the University bookstore. I contend that it would be disadvantageous for Penn students to do the bulk of their book shopping in a bookstore run by a national chain. One can find Barnes & Nobles, with their bland selection of military histories, banal self-help books, and paperback bestsellers, in any shopping mall in the country. But one expects better of university communities. Harvard Square is a vital shopping district because of its many independent bookstores; Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley remains a national magnet for bibliophiles because of its wonderful small book shops. University of Chicago students can spend fruitful hours perusing the stacks at Powells or negotiating the labyrinthine aisles of the Seminary Coop. As a student in New York, my intellectual life was greatly enriched by the independent bookstores that thrived on the Upper West Side (before Barnes & Noble drove them out of business).

Our two small independents provide excellent service and stock a variety of books seldom found in a large chain store. At House of Our Own, my students may browse through sections such as intellectual history, historiography, social welfare, and women and the third world. For the last six years I have ordered my course books there to give them the opportunity (if they choose to take it) to expand their intellectual horizons. I introduce them to bookstore owners who care about books and ideas. I remind them that there is more to the commercial world than suburban shopping malls and national chain stores. At House of Our Own, students can listen to book talks by the likes of our comparative literature professor Liliane Weissberg rather than Howard Stern and Danielle Steel. Above all, they can spend hours pouring through books like mine and Professor Regansand many, many other books by university presses and small publishers whose titles have a depressingly short shelf-life at national chain stores.

In short, many of us have compelling intellectual reasonsnot merely friendship, ideological comradeship, or "habit"to continue ordering our books through the independents. The Bookstore Committees proposals, if enacted, pose a grave threat to the intellectual life of the University and its surrounding community.

--Thomas J. Sugrue
Associate Professor of History

Oasis for Thirsty Minds
I am amazed at Bookstore Committee chair Robert Regans letter of October 28. He claims that the instructors who wish to list their books with House of Our Own "...seem by habit to have continued to support monopolies, however disadvantageous for students that may be..." on behalf of their "ideological friends."

Is he kidding?

The business House of Our Own attracts is marginal to that of the student bookstore as it is today. Please note that House of Our Own does not stock medical or law textbooks, nor does it stock the major texts of such fields as anthropology, sociology, or economics. By and large, its sales are confined to certain humanities coursesand a lot of its books have also been available at bookstores in town as well. That House of Our Own can survive on even this portion of the market is a good indication of its scale.

Barnes & Noble can draw upon cash reserves and distribution channels that House of Our Own simply doesnt have. Also, B&N is capable of hiring people to scan the course booklists and stock up on the needed booksa tactic HOOO cant afford to do at all. So theres no way any reasonable person can regard HOOO as sharing a "level playing field."

If professors decide to give House of Our Own their business, it will have a marginal impact on Barnes & Nobles business at best. No monopoly could be established by such a practice. Regan is simply wrong on this argument, and Im amazed that hed even advance such an argument.

Now, Regan might argue that giving HOOO ones exclusive business constitutes giving it a "monopoly." Oh, sure it is. A monopoly on a handful of courses at the University of Pennsylvania. How sad for Barnes & Noble! And if I buy most of my magazines at Avril 50, does this mean that that stores got a "monopoly" on my dollar? Oh, the injustice! How unfair of me to take food from the mouths of Barnes & Nobles stockholders!

And Regan asserts that this would be far more beneficial for students. Well, if a student is someone whose main concerns are ease of use of credit cards, access to the weeks best-sellers and astrology-diet editions, and getting out of a bookstore as quickly as possible without getting distracted by all those other weird books, odd ideas, offbeat magazines or considerate clerks, well, maybe Regan would be right. Maybe Regan really isnt this contemptuous of university students and the life of the mindbut his juvenile, red-baiting comment about HOOOs leftist orientation and "ideological friends" isnt exactly evidence to the contrary.

But the real meat of the matter is this. Would Barnes & Noble really be such a benefit to the students? Are they going to reduce their prices below their marked cover price? And if HOOO goes under, will these price remain magically low in response to some unforeseen competition? Are they even likely to buy old textbooks and resell them at a fair discountwhich Penn has usually fought even though its a clear benefit to students? Or does Regans critical outlook fog over when the magic words "competition" and "monopoly" are uttered by the PR wizards at B&N?

Like many others here at Penn, I love books, and I love bookstores. Philadelphias got some terrific specialty bookstores: Whodunit, for example, and Hibberts, and the venerable Book Trader, and even the soon-to-be-reopened Wooden Shoe. In all of these places, the owner or clerk might point out something interesting, or alert me to a new book on a favorite topic, or even call me at home to let me know when a really special book came in. Bookstores are supposed to be like that: an oasis for the thirsty mind. Ive never gotten that treatment at a Barnes & Noble or a Borders.

--Brian Siano, Systems Coordinator
Center for Clinical Epidemiology
& Biostatistics, PennMed

To the Bookstore Committee
The Bookstore Committees reference to the "free and open competition" that would ensue with all course reading lists on PennNet is as compelling as Microsofts contention that free and open competition exists between it, Netscape and other small suppliers in the Internet browser market.

--Edward S. Herman
Professor Emeritus of Finance

The following was sent to Almanac for publication as an Open Letter to the Trustees. --Ed.

On the Trammell Crow Contract
The Statutes of the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania state that trustees "shall perform his or her duties as a trustee in good faith and with such care, including reasonable inquiry, skill, and diligence, as a person of ordinary prudence would use under similar circumstances."

As Trustees, on Friday November 7, you will be asked to approve a contact that will outsource the management of Penns facilities and physical infrastructure to a company called Trammell Crow Company. The only way that you can act in a manner consistent with your duties as Trustees is to categorically reject this contract.

There can be no question that the manner in which services are delivered, and the quality of those services, do have an impact on whether and how well Penn fulfills its mission. Yet neither you, nor the University Community, has been given the opportunity to consider the impact of this contract on Penn. Consider:

1) Trammell Crow has absolutely no experience in managing the facilities and physical infrastructure of an entire academic community, let alone an academic institution as large and complex as Penn.

2) In fact, no University has ever out-sourced the management of all of its facilities and physical infrastructure to a private, for- profit company.

3) Despite consistent promises by the administration that consultation would take place on matters such as these, the deal was made in complete secrecy, and came as a shock to virtually the entire University Community.

4) There has been absolutely no opportunity for the University community to consider the implications and possible pitfalls. Not even the bodies established by the Statutes of the Trustees, who are specifically empowered to make recommendations to the Trustees regarding matters of general interest to the University (University Council, Faculty Senate, Graduate and Professional Assembly, Undergraduate Assembly) were given an opportunity to consider the implications of the idea behind this contract.

5) The possibility of this deal was not even mentioned at the meeting of the Trustees Facilities committee at the Spring meetingunless it was mentioned during an Executive Session from which the student and faculty liaisons to that committee were specifically excluded.

6) Despite public statements to the contrary, no effort was ever made to stabilize the management of Housing and Residential Living after the resignation of its leadership over 15 months ago. No search committee was ever formed, and it is clear that this administration has been considering outsourcing management of housing facilities without any attempt to improve the operations of that department.

7) Outsourcing these services means that they will no longer be primarily responsive to the needs of the academic side of Penn. Instead, the managers of Penns facilities will be primarily accountable to a for-profit company that has a ten year contract with the University, and secondarily accountable to University officials on the non-academic side of Penn. In short, the needs of faculty, students, and staff will be entirely subordinate to the bottom line of Trammell Crow, and the agenda of the Penns non-academic side.

8) Trammell Crow is about to go public, which means that the level of services received by Penn will be affected by short-term considerations such as quarterly profit statements, rather than the long-term interests of the University.

Finally, I must bring up a rather unpleasant subjectthe undeniable aura of conflict of interest. The facts are these: D. Michael Crow is a former member of Penns Board of Trustees. Almost immediately after his term was over, his company was given the contract to manage Penns non-academic real estate interests. The deal that you are going to be voting on today comes at a time when the value of Mr. Crows holdings in Trammell Crow Company are at stakejust before Trammell Crow goes public. This deal has received significant publicity in places like the Wall Street Journal, which notes that this alliance comes at a time when universities "are stepping up their cost cutting efforts...real estate could be one of the most promising areas for cost savings."

From Trammell Crows perspective, the Penn contract represents a chance to break into a new business just as the company is preparing to sell stock to the public in an initial public offering expected in early November. To get its foot in the door, Trammell Crow is giving Penn an unusual $26 million dollar upfront cash payment: "We view [the payment] as investment frankly to get started in the higher education marketplace...Over the next five years, we think we can go from one to 16 in the University market too...".

Now, I dont know how much money D. Michael Crow stands to make if Trammell Crows public offering is successful. However, for you as Trustees to approve this deal at this time, without first determining how this deal happened to come about at this time, would be irresponsible.

Frankly, I dont know if the Trammell Crow deal is in the best interests of the University, and neither do you. What I do know is that no genuine effort was made to find ways of saving money without ceding control of facilities management to an outside company, and that (except for a small handful of University administrators and possibly some Trustees) no one, including yourselves, was ever given the opportunity to reflect on the risks and implications of this deal, not just for Penn, but for higher education in general.

The Statutes of the Board of Trustees tell you that you have a duty to act as a person of "ordinary prudence." It would be wholly imprudent for you to approve this contract under these circumstances. As a member of this University community, I strongly urge you to categorically reject it. I also urge you to appoint a special committee consisting of Trustees, faculty, students, and staff to look into the consultative and decision-making process at Penn, to prevent further occurrences of this kind of secretive and unconsidered decision-making.

--Paul Lukasiak, Office Assistant,
Graduate and Professional
Students Assembly

Response to Mr. Lukasiak
The purpose of the Universitys proposed ten year contract with Trammell Crow is to introduce increased quality and efficiency to the way we maintain our current physical infrastructure and plan for the future. The decision to contract with Trammell Crow is driven by three factors: a belief that the University does not need three separate organizations managing our facilities infrastructure (facilities management, residential services, University City Associates); a recognition that the increasingly competitive environment in higher education requires us to look outside the academy for new ideas and innovative techniques to improve service and contain costs; and the fact that our students, faculty, and staff are rightly demanding new levels of facility management services at Penn. Through working with Trammell Crow, we will be able to provide higher quality services with more effective processes and structures.

University City Associates (UCA), Penns fully owned subsidiary, is already operated under contract with Trammell Crow Corporate Services. Our experience with Trammell Crow throughout this 14-month time period has been excellent. However, it is true that the University of Pennsylvania represents Trammell Crow Companys first full scale entry into higher education. The firm has created Trammell Crow Higher Education Services Inc. (TCHES) in order to properly service Penn. TCHES, which will locate its headquarters in West Philadelphia, will bring to Penn the expertise Trammell Crow has gained through managing nearly 300 million square feet of office, R&D, retail, and warehouse space for clients such as Nations Bank, Baxter International, and Xerox.

We believe the Trammell Crow contract supports both the short-term and long-term interests of the University. The principles outlined in the October 8th letter of intent were discussed with members of the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees, the deans, and other University officers. We have also conducted 15 focus groups over the last several weeks, both in open forums and in schools and centers. The goal of these focus groups has been to provide the University community with an opportunity to communicate their facilities related needs directly to us and to Trammell Crow. This input has been invaluable to us as we shape the terms of the contract. The principles of the final contract, currently being negotiated, will be submitted for approval by the Board of Trustees at the November 7 meeting. If approved, we anticipate the transfer of management to Trammell Crow to occur on March 1, 1998.

During this time of transition, the Universitys focus will not be sidetracked by the ridiculous and baseless claims of conflict-of-interest against individuals who have been loyal supporters of Penn. Instead, our focus has been on the future well-being and income protection for the approximately 180 Penn and UCA staff impacted by this contract, and on consulting with the University community. I have met in small groups with most of the employees impacted by the initiative, and have established an "open door" policy to meet with those who have not been available to date, or who wish to continue this dialogue.

Penn staff who transfer to Trammell Crow will not have any out-of paycheck loss in their paychecks. Additionally, they will receive the same tuition benefits for their current dependent children as Penn staff receive, as long as they remain on the Penn account. Trammell Crow will provide domestic partner benefits as well as the same paid holidays as the University, including the special holiday vacation. A partial list of economic and service benefits for staff who transfer to Trammell Crow and remain on the Penn account follows this letter.

The contract with Trammell Crow makes good sense as it allows us to fully exercise our fiduciary responsibility to continuously improve service quality and efficient use of resources in facilities management, while at the same time providing meaningful employment opportunities for the staff affected by the change.

--John A. Fry,
Executive Vice President

Return to:Almanac, University of Pennsylvania, November 4, 1997, Volume 44, No. 11