The Hill Set to be Outsourced

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UCI’s campus bookstore, The Hill, will be outsourced by the end of spring quarter 2016, announced ASUCI President Parshan Khosravi at Thursday’s Legislative Council meeting. This year will be the first in a seven-year contract with an external corporation, set to be selected by UCI administration by the end of the month.

UCI's bookstore, The Hill, will be outsourced to an external corporation by the end of spring quarter 2016. (Courtesy of Sabrina Zuluaga)
UCI’s bookstore, The Hill, will be outsourced to an external corporation by the end of spring quarter 2016. (Courtesy of Sabrina Zuluaga)

The official announcement comes after a lengthy debate over the outsourcing, which began in early March with a Change.org petition directed towards UCI’s Vice Chancellor Thomas Parham entitled “Save our campus store, The Hill!”

The petition, which gathered 1,961 signatures as of Sunday, argued that outsourcing The Hill to a major corporation like Barnes & Noble or Follett could result in “layoffs of current full-time staff,” “less support for campus events” and “not [prioritizing] the individual needs of the campus.”

Despite initial backlash, UCI administration selected three undisclosed corporations last month to bid on a contract with The Hill. In mid-April, each contender presented their goals and qualifications to a board of approximately two dozen student government representatives and UCI administrators, who were able to ask questions and interview each bidder about their intentions for The Hill.

Khosravi, who attended the board meetings, said that he raised the concerns mentioned on the Change.org petition, and was largely satisfied by the bidders’ responses.

“There shouldn’t be price issues; we don’t expect prices to increase. In fact, we might expect some decreases,” he said. “Labor and contracting also won’t be a problem, since all three bidders we interviewed have massive student worker programs and are committed to hiring within the university. As for our full-time staff at the bookstore, there shouldn’t be layoffs there either, since our staff is already as small and efficient as it can be.”

Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs and Auxiliary Services Dan Dooros said that outsourcing the bookstore could result in “significant” discounts on textbooks, and could boost the inventory of books available for rent from 35 percent of titles to 80 percent.

Renovations to The Hill are expected throughout the summer, including aesthetic changes and structural remodeling for more efficient use of bookstore space. Initial changes in inventory are expected to occur during summer session as well.

Khosravi still has reservations about outsourcing the bookstore — he questioned how a national chain can stay in touch with UCI’s campus climate, and whether the corporation selected will remain consistent with the terms set in their contract.

ASUCI is currently pushing Vice Chancellor Parham to compile a list of The Hill’s current strengths and weaknesses, to be compared with the strengths and weaknesses exhibited after outsourcing, in an effort for transparency. Student government hopes that the public can compare lists in future years, and hold new management accountable for improving the bookstore as promised.

Despite some skepticism, Khosravi sees outsourcing as the best possible option for The Hill, as he says that the bookstore could not have remained profitable under UCI’s control for much longer.

“We as a campus are responsible for focusing on academia and research, not business management,” Khosravi said. “Insourcing is preferable to many students, but when we can’t run a store by ourselves, it has to be time to let go.”

A formal announcement of the corporation chosen is expected by the end of April. The new corporation is expected to begin moving into The Hill this quarter, and should finish remodeling by the start of fall quarter.

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