I think the article about the legislation that would force the Cal Poly Corporation to open its records is great news and I sure hope that this bill passes.
On many occasions I have been disgruntled with the cost of goods and services on campus and the significant price mark-up of certain items over off-campus alternatives. For example, bananas at The Avenue are sold at over four times the price of the same banana at Trader Joe’s. A pre-made peanut butter and jelly sandwich from The Avenue costs over $5, more than a freshly-made footlong sub at Subway. Sure, The Avenue offers convenient on-campus eating, but to me it’s more of a monopoly over location than the actual cost of convenience.
These facts are frustrating, but even worse is the fact that these on-campus organizations are blanketed under a “non-profit” label, yet their finances are not publicly accessible. I find it laughable that they say the bill would “put the corporation at a disadvantage in competing with off-campus, for-profit businesses.” As it stands, few things on campus are price comparable with off-campus, let alone competitive. And is it any surprise when you think about the services? How many off-campus for-profit businesses do you know of that have large flat-panel televisions to display mostly stagnant menus? On campus, Backstage Pizza has two and 19 Metro Station has four. That system alone must have cost thousands of dollars to put in place. Personally, I would rather have more affordable food than the pleasure of reading a menu off of a flat-panel television.
And what about in regards to the bookstore — what of their earnings? I once took a course with a professor who had recently published a textbook to compliment the course. He said he had no control over the price of the textbook, but did mention his profit and the publisher’s price for a new book. Based on this, and what the bookstore on campus was selling the book for, the bookstore would have been making three times what the author was making for each new book sold.
This doesn’t even take into account the profit margin the bookstore will also make buying and re-selling used copies, all done without any additional compensation to the author. Yes, there are off-campus alternatives, but they tend to price based upon the campus bookstore, in order to maintain an only slightly competitive edge.
Those of us who really want to save money on buying textbooks are forced to shop for books online. However, it can be difficult to purchase just the book you need with enough time for shipping. The campus bookstore releases course material information only weeks in advance of the quarter and they never give the ISBN, only the author and book title. They don’t even give the edition of text that is needed; the only way to be sure is to peruse the shelves of the bookstore and write down the ISBNs of the textbooks you need.
Perhaps if this bill passes, public scrutiny may force the on-campus businesses to be more competitive. I understand that any profit (technically referred to as “surplus” for non-profits) is turned around and used to grow the business, but it seems like private companies tend to make changes more quickly and economically than is done on campus. It seems like in the private sector, things are done efficiently in order to save money for both the business and the consumer, whereas for a non-profit company on campus, any surplus earned is often quickly spent on trivial things, or even wasted on things we may not know about as long as their financial records are kept private.
Jeff Lewis is a mechanical engineering sophomore and a Mustang Daily guest columnist.