For generations, Lawrentians have perennially griped about Conkey’s refusing to release reading lists over the phone or prior to a term’s beginning. This anger is misdirected. Conkey’s plays by the rules of the marketplace, and, being a small business, its policies are defensible, if not particularly customer-friendly.Lawrentians who phoned the store over the summer, even this week, found themselves summarily dismissed when they asked for textbook lists by course. Such “customer service” seems counterintuitive, as our students comprise a significant share of the Conkey’s customer base.
But Lawrence University carries more responsibility for creating the monopolistic atmosphere than Conkey’s. Lawrence should begin posting classes’ reading lists online, so that Lawrentians may begin to use online resources and competing consumer outlets to purchase used or discounted textbooks.
With the trimester system, professors must assign readings for as early as a class’s second meeting. Such a schedule does not allow students to wait for an online auction or used book sale to clear. An online notice at least two weeks prior to a term’s beginning would allow for this option.
The Center for Teaching and Learning, which encompasses College Place and Writing Tutors, would provide the ideal mechanism for such a project. The CTL already communicates regularly with professors regarding course content, in order to facilitate tutoring. The CTL has sought a higher profile and increased usefulness since its inception last year. Collecting information and posting lists could also provide a work-study job or two, which would also aid students.
As is the case with any large-scale institutional undertaking, there would be inevitable anomalies. The biggest danger would be if mix-ups caused students to purchase the wrong books. But if the list were finalized and posted, say, two weeks prior to the beginning of a term, the risk of such a situation would be negligible.
Conkey’s defenders often contend that as soon as Lawrentians begin purchasing books elsewhere, the Appletonian institution will cease to turn a profit. While The Lawrentian sympathizes with the needs of the small business, how more immediate should be the needs of our school’s students?
For such coldness to us, the students, Conkey’s remains the easy target for frustrated campus consumers. However, Lawrence University should be held tacitly but overwhelmingly responsible for trapping its students in a consumer headlock.
As we all arrive on campus and spend half of our savings on textbooks this weekend, let us encourage the University to find a solution that balances the needs of the business, the school, and the students. But this balance should not be equal: the students should, in the end, come out ahead.
In his opening remarks to incoming classes, President Warch offers a perennial and poignant reminder that we, the students, should view Lawrence through the eyes of investors, not consumers.
But today, as we look over our course syllabi for the first time and take the fateful walk down College Ave, we are indeed consumers. Lawrence University and Conkey’s should treat us accordingly.