Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Save the Fuller Bookstore!

You may have heard that the Fuller Bookstore (also including the "Coffee by the Books" café) is in danger of being closed.  This rumor has probably been accompanied by other rumors and whispers of what’s going to happen.  Some of these may have truth to them.  Others are either wild speculation or out-and-out falsehoods.  I’ll try to clear some of that up.

At the beginning of the year (January 25th), the Board of Trustees was confronted with the reality that the Fuller Bookstore is losing money to the tune of over a million dollars over the past five years.  A financial hit averaging more than $200,000 every year isn’t something that can be ignored, and so the trustees have asked the seminary to consider options for restructuring the bookstore… or closing it down.  To this end, a task force chaired by Dr. Clayton Schmit has been working on the situation.

I’m not on that task force, and so I’m sure that there’s a lot that’s been considered that I don’t know anything about.  Even so, in my role on SOT staff I expect that I’ve had access to some conversations that most others haven’t been able to hear.  Some of this, being privileged information, I may not be able to share freely, and it has been my practice to err on the side of caution when it comes to such information.  I can safely say, however, that every single time I’ve heard faculty members discuss the matter, the intent has always been toward figuring out ways to keep the bookstore open.  For the people I’ve heard from, closing the bookstore is simply not an option.  I don’t say this to suggest that there is no danger that the bookstore will close, but rather to say that there are people working extremely hard to save it.

Yesterday, the task force convened a “Town Hall” meeting to give students and staff the chance to voice their own concerns.  While I don’t have exact numbers, I can say that the meeting was well attended, and that many people did in fact step forward to speak on the matter. 
The task force asked those in attendance to consider the following questions:
  • How important is the bookstore/café to you?
  • How do you use the bookstore?
  • What would we be willing to do to help subsidize bookstore?
To give a proper a sampling of the many, many positive comments which were made during the hour, I'd need to make this a very long post.  I'll limit the representatives to three which I think are especially important.
  • The bookstore is an essential part of the educational enterprise.  While Amazon.com and other options may be valuable, there’s nothing like a brick and mortar bookstore to help someone to encounter something they didn’t know they were looking for.  (I, myself, found the book Introverts in the Church in much this way, which is proving important in my own vocational discernment) 
  • The bookstore serves a social purpose.  This includes not just a place to "hang out" between or after classes, but also access to knowledge of the people who work there, or are in need of mentoring from current students or staff, not to mention as a place to bring people who are visiting the campus (perhaps considering Fuller as a place to work or study as faculty, staff or students).  Several people suggested that they wish it were open later, and/or provided more space (the café is rather short on chairs at present). It's current location is uniquely suited to attracting attention from those who aren't already part of the Fuller community (contrast, for example, with the locations of the Catalyst and the Refectory, both of which you have to already be fully on the campus grounds to see).
  • The future of the bookstore is a moral issue.   Consider not only the services provided to our community, and what the existence of the bookstore says about our reputation as an academic institution, but also the question of how we treat those who currently work there (many of which are international students, who are legally unable to work off-campus).
Although the responses were overwhelmingly positive in regard to the need for the bookstore to continue to exist, there were a couple of criticisms that I think are important enough that I want to mention them here:
  • The bookstore does have failings when it comes to serving our Spanish-speaking students, and the (primarily English-speaking) staff are often unable to provide adequate assistance in this area, despite being stellar in this area in regard to English-language needs.  Spanish-language texts also have a reputation for arriving after classes have started, meaning that Spanish-speaking students often get a smaller amount of useful class time with those texts.
  • The financial challenges are real.  What would we be willing to sacrifice/pay in order to keep it intact?  Would students be willing, for example, to pay a proportionate amount of the bookstore's deficit in addition to their tuition?  Volunteering of time was voiced as an option.
Options for the bookstore to remain open are still being worked through, but the task force did share some preliminary ideas.  These are just a few:
  • Have the bookstore operate online.  Expand and improve its existing website
  • Expand the coffee shop, while keeping less stock in the bookstore.
  • Events.  Book signings.  Art Shows.  Make the Fuller bookstore the Vroman’s of the theologial world.
If having the bookstore and Coffee by the Books remain a continued presence on campus is important to you, now is the time to act.  Interested parties are asked to fill out a survey, available at this link.  Responses will be accepted until 5:00 pm on Friday, April 8th, 2011.  A final decision on the bookstore’s future will be made on April 26th.

In the meantime, why not head on down and buy yourself a book and/or a cup of coffee?

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