Public meetings aren’t exactly the best way to spend a late Thursday night. That didn’t stop about 80 students, faculty and community members from attending the March 14 Lane Community College Board of Education meeting to protest a proposed tuition increase and the outsourcing of the college’s food services and bookstore.
The college has to balance next year’s budget by dealing with a deficit of $8.5 million. It took the board more than four hours to discuss and act on just three action items aimed at closing that gap: tuition increases ranging from $6-$38 per credit as well as faculty layoffs and outsourcing the bookstore and food services.
The meeting was filled with tension, including Robert’s Rules of Order blunders, spats and rolled eyes between board members. Board member Matt Keating was accused of grandstanding by two other board members. The first time, he asked faculty in the audience to stand and a segment to sit to illustrate faculty loss. The second time, when voting whether to outsource food services, he told the rest of the board to remember how he made a compromise in his values to balance the budget, and they should do the same by voting to raise tuition.
The heated meeting, which prompted a college official to hand out candy during a break to ease tensions, ended without definitive action to resolve the deficit. If the board continues to delay on whether to increase tuition to close the deficit gap, the college’s default action is to issue layoffs.
The college sent a general notice of possible program and service reductions to employees during the week of March 11. Employee contracts require LCC to issue a notice by May 1 to faculty whose positions would be cut, and classified employees must be given a minimum of 21 working days’ notice.
LCC officials have provided regular budget updates to the board since last November, says Joan Aschim, the college’s spokesperson.
The college spends $1.16 million in subsidies to support the bookstore and food services. The board voted to allow the college administration to outsource its food services, which cut LCC’s expenditures by about $420,000.
Board member Phil Carrasco proposed requiring the vendor to be local. However, Robin Geyer, the president of the Lane Community College Employees Federation, tells Eugene Weekly she has reservations that a private vendor would want to come in if food services subsidized by the college doesn’t make money.
“I’m not sure how any vendor can come in and do any better,” she said. “The reality we need to recognize is that food service is a service. The college needs to fund the service. We need the service. We’re too remote not to have food for our students. To not have it is a disservice to the students and the staff who work here.”
The college will begin engaging with local vendors, Aschim tells EW.
The college’s recommendation of outsourcing the bookstore drew criticism from Meggie Wright, LCC’s open educational resources (OER) librarian.
Before the board meeting, Wright told EW that she was concerned about the future of OER at the college if Barnes and Noble College were to operate the bookstore. OER is course material that has an open license, which allows faculty to revise and use it in courses and offers students a free or low-cost textbook for class. LCC’s open education is one of the most robust and oldest in Oregon, she added.
Barnes and Noble College initially approached the college in 2008. Ten years later, LCC reached out to Barnes and Noble College and another out-of-state company to explore partnership opportunities, Aschim tells EW in an email.
What Wright feared was a contract that would resemble the one Clackamas Community College signed with Barnes and Noble College in 2018 to relinquish control of the college’s open education program to the private company.
“We’re concerned about the contract language that restricts what our instructors are able to do,” she said. “In the Clackamas contract, OER is specifically called out as something there’s a restriction on. So that’s really concerning to our program.”
In addition, Wright expressed more concern about how Barnes and Noble College would make revenue at a bookstore in a college that is pushing for increased OER.
Encouraging faculty to use OER generally saves an individual student $100 per class, she added.
However, the success of open education at LCC has resulted in diminished revenue for the bookstore, Tony Sanjume, the bookstore’s manager, tells EW. The bookstore has been losing money because of its large employee pool.
“The largest controllable expense in retail operation is payroll,” he says. “I have not been given the opportunity to transfer people out because that’s a college decision.”
The college has already transferred out a few employees from the bookstore. And, if Barnes and Noble College were to operate the Titan Bookstore, the college would have transferred out more employees.
Sanjume adds that sales have changed drastically because of the declining sales of textbooks, which is due to the success of the college’s use of OER. Usually at a community college, textbooks are about 70 to 80 percent of a store’s revenue.
“It’s great for the students, but the store needs to be given an opportunity to adjust its operations so it can create a model that’s gonna work with a more digital course material assortment for classes,” he says. “OERs are essentially free. A class that was using a $150 textbook is using a $40 digital or even zero online or $15 photocopy of class notes.”
The board voted 4-3 to not outsource the bookstore right now. The bookstore must provide ongoing financial updates to the board. If the bookstore continues to have financial losses next year, the board will revisit whether to outsource it.
The board plans to have a special session to hear from faculty and students on how either an increase in tuition or faculty cut would impact them. During that session, the board can also vote on how to close the deficit gap.