Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Marquette Dumps Alterra, Goes to Stone Creek

Via Daniel Suhr at GOP3.COM: the fact that Marquette is dumping Alterra as the vendor of coffee served on campus, and going to Stone Creek.

The rationale? A lot of politically correct nonsense.
“Stone Creek’s concern for others, particularly the poor and marginalized, reflects Marquette’s Catholic, Jesuit tradition of service,” says Toby Peters, associate vice president for administration. “Our partnership with Stone Creek not only provides our students, faculty, staff and visitors with excellent coffee, it also gives us the opportunity to explore additional opportunities for community outreach, both here and abroad.”
But, as Suhr points out, Alterra is also a “Fair Trade” brand, and most of the coffees they serve are organic.

So isn’t that politically correct enough?

The reality is that Marquette has a long history of picking pet vendors and giving them a monopoly on sales on campus.

Peters himself was a big supporter of computer vendor CDW, which once had an outlet in the Union. Peters, in 2004, gave a contract to Follet to run Marquette’s “official” bookstore (the Book Marq) in spite of the widespread dissatisfaction found in a survey of students and faculty. According to an April 20, 2004 story in the Marquette Tribune:
A February survey done on the Book Marq revealed some customers are dissatisfied with the way the store prices its books.

According to a survey of 1,380 students and 97 faculty members, over-priced books are a major concern when purchasing from Book Marq, 818 N. 16th Street. Of the 1,380 students who filled out the survey — which was sent online to students and faculty members, according to Todd Vicker, executive director of auxiliary services — 66 percent said pricing was their main motive for buying books from a given place.

Most students and faculty who chose to fill in a write-in section complained in some manner or another that pricing at Book Marq is not fair to college students.

One student wrote, “The Book Marq is ridiculously over-priced. Sweeney’s is a much better bargain and I have been going there because of that.”
As for Sweeney’s, Peters was active in trying to stop University staff from telling new students they can get better prices there. In 2001, Carrie Pruhs, Assistant Director for Administration in the Graduate School, sent an innocent e-mail to Ed Sweeney and Book Marq manager Barry Waters, asking both for information to be passed along to graduate students.

Waters responded with a stern admonition:
Basically, per Toby Peters in Administration, Marquette should not recognize Sweeney’s for any reason. Sweeney’s has no affiliation to Marquette what so ever. By providing Sweeney’s the information that you have, for example, it shows that you are promoting Sweeney’s to your Graduate students and that has an adverse effect on the campus bookstore, Book Marq, and also an adverse effect on Marquette University.
Pruhs wrote Peters, asking about this, and Peters responded as follows:
The exclusive arrangement we have with Follett has not only brought improved service but has also contributed significantly to the bottom line of the University. Over five years this amount is into the millions. At a time when we are looking for ways to bolster the salary of our employees, this is very significant.

Carrie, I can understand that on the surface competition is a good thing, frankly, in this case it is detrimental to the University and its students. Every dollar spent at Sweeney’s is money out of the University’s pocket. So to answer your question do we need to work exclusively with the Book Marq? Yes we do.
We leaked this e-mail to be Marquette Tribune, and the resulting articles created a firestorm.

It developed that Peters, a bureaucrat on the business side of the University, had no business giving any such instructions to anybody on the academic side. Then Academic Vice President Dave Buckholdt made it clear that faculty were under no obligation to withhold information or support from Sweeny’s.

The Omnitech Monopoly

Among faculty and staff, perhaps the most notorious exclusive purchasing agreement on campus was the Omnitech computer monopoly. Under former Information Technology Services director Art Scheuber, departments at Marquette were required to pay $400-500 per workstation more than a competitive vendor would charge.

When departments complained, administrators on the academic side of the University, unwilling to challenge the monopoly, usually ponied up the money to reimburse departments for the extra cost they had to pay.

And then, of course, there is the Pepsi Cola monopoly. No soft drink products other than those sold by Pepsi are allowed served in campus food outlets. There is one exception, however. When the Trustees meet, they have their choice of Coke or Pepsi.

Marquette administrators, in sum, have a history of giving sweetheart contracts to favored vendors. They will claim that these monopolies serve the interests of the University. They may have convinced themselves that this is true.

But their judgment is biased by their bureaucratic interest, and the notion that a monopoly serves the interests of consumers is one no student should risk writing in a blue book during an economics exam.


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