Rensselaer Union

UPDATED: Bookstore slated to be managed by outside company

Decisions made in closed-door Executive Board session

Update (1:16 am, May 13): The Student Senate brought the following motion onto the floor:

WHEREAS the Rensselaer Union takes pride in being one of the few student-run student unions in the country; and

WHEREAS the RPI Bookstore is currently operated and managed by the Rensselaer Union; and

WHEREAS the Rensselaer Union Student Senate and the Rensselaer Union Executive Board make decisions on behalf of the Rensselaer student body; and

WHEREAS the Rensselaer Union Executive Board engaged in secretive dialog regarding the operation of the RPI Bookstore; and

WHEREAS, on or about Monday, April 27, 2015, RPI Bookstore employees were informed by Director of the Union Joseph Cassidy that an outside company, Follett Corporation, would be taking control of the RPI Bookstore on June 15, 2015; and

WHEREAS the Rensselaer Union Constitution, Article VII, Section 2, Paragraph (e), provides a clear procedure for the management of the business affairs of any and all facilities operated by the Rensselaer Union;

The Rensselaer Union 46th Student Senate hereby RESOLVES:
1. To emphasize the importance of maintaining open and transparent dialog between Student Government and its constituents; and
2. To recommend that a formal review of the RPI Bookstore contract be taken by a joint ad-hoc committee between the Rensselaer Union Student Senate and Rensselaer Union Executive Board.

The motion failed 6-10-0. The votes are as follows:

First Last Vote
Thomas Alappat Absent
Mike Caiola No
Keegan Caraway No
Jen Church No
Joshua D’Amato Absent
Justin Etzine Yes
Alex Fox No
Jennifer Freedberg Yes
Michael Han No
Paul Ilori Yes
Jessica Krajewski Yes
Timothy Krentz No
Bill Mehner No
Austin Miller No
Samantha Notley Yes
Victoria Phan Absent
Spencer Scott No
Steven Sperazza Yes
Joe Venusto No
Benjamin Walcott Absent
James Whelan Absent

Original Article:

An outside company is slated to take over the RPI Bookstore in mid-June, sources in Student Government tell The Polytechnic, and questions are being raised over the validity of agreements made between that company and the Rensselaer Union.

Follett Higher Education Group, a subsidiary of Westchester, Ill.-based Follett Corporation, has reportedly been in negotiations to take over the Bookstore. According to Student Government officials and Union employees, Director of the Union Joe Cassidy is the Rensselaer Union representative for a contract with the Follett Corporation to provide bookstore services to campus, replacing the student-managed model that has been used up until this point.

The change was put in motion during a closed-door Executive Board meeting, where the E-Board made an official, non-motion decision. No motions were passed during the meeting, circumventing Article V, section (4), subsection (1), of the E-Board bylaws, which states the following, “All meetings of the Executive Board shall be open to the public. The Executive Board may close a meeting with a two-thirds vote. The E-Board can invite non-Board members to a closed meeting with a majority vote. All motions passed during the closed meeting must be made public immediately after the conclusion of the closed meeting.”

Consultants were brought in to do a full audit of the Bookstore as per a motion passed by the E-Board on May 8, 2014, with a budget of $26,500, plus expenses. The money was reportedly taken out of the Bookstore budget, rather than general Union reserves, as the motion states. Several months later, additional funds were sent to the consultants, again, reportedly, from the Bookstore budget; this money was matched by another Institute source. The E-Board currently has no procedure or policy for hiring outside consultants.

Few confirmed details are currently available, but photos of reserved parking spaces in the Rensselaer Union garage show Paul Schmalhofer, vice president of Campus Bookstore Consultants, and David Klein, a vice president of Follett Corporation, were on campus on May 5 and 6 and on April 29 and 30 of this year, respectively. Union employees close to issue confirmed that their visit was to discuss, with Cassidy, the Bookstore, which has been experiencing a decline in profits in past years.

Cassidy directed all Union Administration employees to direct questioning parties to Vice President for Administration Claude Rounds. Some employees felt that they were deliberately kept out of discussions.

“We have been exploring the possibility of contract management of the Rensselaer Collegiate Store,” said Cassidy. “The Rensselaer Union Executive Board has been involved in this process. Currently, we are in contract negotiations with Follett Higher Education Group, the largest operator of collegiate stores. We anticipate that the contract will be finalized in the near future. An announcement with more details will be released at that time.”

Current employees of the Bookstore will reportedly have a one-year contract with Follett, after which continued employment will be at the company’s discretion; however, 16-year employee and interim manager Traci Griffin recently resigned from her position.

Both the Student Senate and the Union Executive Board are scheduled to meet for the final meeting of the year at 8 pm tonight in Union Rooms 3606 and 3602, respectively. It is unknown whether any motions, statements, or injunctions will be released with regards to Cassidy’s actions.

According to the Rensselaer Union Constitution Article V: Director of the Union, it is not within the authority of the director to enter into any contracts on behalf of the Union without formal Executive Board approval. Paragraph (3) of the same article also provides for charges to be brought against the director in cases of overstepping their constitutional authority.

Many students have expressed concerns about the management and direction of the Bookstore, and they wish for decisions made go to through the proper channels and processes.

Editor’s note: To protect both students and employees who offered information to The Poly, sources’ names have been withheld. The Poly and its reporters believe that the facts, opinions, and concerns stated herein are legitimate.

Correction: in a previous version of this article, it was incorrectly stated in the third paragraph that, “The change was finalized during a closed-door Executive Board meeting.” The article has been corrected to reflect that the change was set in motion, not finalized, during the meeting.