New bill threatens campus monopoly

The GW Bookstore’s exclusive rights to campus book sales have come under fire recently within the GW community, but the U.S. Senate soon may pose a much larger threat to its monopoly.

Sen. Lauch Faircloth (R-N.C.) has introduced The College Costs Savings Act of 1998 in response to national concerns about monopolies on college campuses.

The act proposes that colleges and universities that allow bookstores to have a monopoly be denied aid from the federal government.

Faircloth, a member of the Senate’s Small Business Committee, gathered a group of representatives from various colleges and universities, and small business owners.

The business owners, many of whom sell books and school supplies, are not allowed to sell their merchandise on campus because exclusive rights have been granted to a single company, Faircloth said in the formal introduction of the act.

At GW, the University has granted Follett College Stores, owner of the GW Bookstore, exclusive rights to sell textbooks on campus, said Al Ingle, associate vice president of business affairs.

Faircloth said he is convinced campus bookstore monopolies pose a major threat to college students and the federal government, said Elizabeth Feney, a legislative correspondent for Faircloth.

For students, a lack of competition among bookstores and similar businesses significantly increases the financial burden of going to college, according to Faircloth’s bill.

“There is also a nationwide use of financial aid to, in effect, channel funds exclusively to college business-like enterprises,” Faircloth said.

Ingle said he suspects such legislation, if passed, would force the University to comply because he said GW could not withstand a complete withdrawal of federal funds.

But Ingle said he does not think students realize what the bill would mean in the long run. The funds GW receives from Follett go toward the development of the Marvin Center, Ingle said. Although students might see an immediate reduction in the overall cost of books, they would see the quality of University facilities suffer, he said.

Dave Peterson, general manager of the GW Bookstore, would not comment on the threat the bill may pose to the future of the exclusive contract.

Tim Levy, the co-founder of online bookseller VarsityBooks, said open competition among bookstores on campus could only benefit students. He said he is encouraged by the proposed legislation in the U.S. Senate.

VarsityBooks representatives said they were asked by GW Bookstore employees to leave campus last month, where they were promoting the online service on what was later determined to be an off-campus location.

“There is absolutely no competition right now at GW,” Levy said.

Levy said the reason he co-founded VarsityBooks with partner Eric Kuhn was to help lessen the financial burden of buying textbooks.

“The students are the ones who suffer when they have no choice where to buy books,” Levy said.

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