March 24, 2016
To: St. Mary’s University Community
From: Thomas M. Mengler, J.D., President
As a fiduciary to St. Mary’s University in my role as President and member of the Board of Trustees, I try – and encourage others who work closely with me – to reach decisions that are in the best interests of the University and our St. Mary’s community. Our great community principally includes our students present and future, our graduates, our faculty and staff, and the Marianists. Charged also with the responsibility of achieving the University’s Gateway strategic goals and enhancing the five Characteristics of a Marianist Education, I feel a special responsibility to foster excellence in education, prepare students for purposeful lives of servant leadership, and adapt and change. When faced with a particularly tough choice, I rank the interests of our students – present and future – first.
I set this framework for you because we have recently reached a difficult decision, which I believe will serve the best interests of our University and the St. Mary’s community, particularly the interests of our students. On May 9, we will be ending our partnership with a national company, Nebraska Book Company, with which we have partnered for decades, and beginning a new partnership with Barnes & Noble, which will operate our bookstore in its current location.
This decision has been a long time coming. During the past four years we have attempted to transform our bookstore to enhance in-store and online textbook purchase and rental options and efficiency, revenue and profitability, selection and quality of merchandise, online merchandising, and the bookstore’s overall appearance. Unfortunately, the transformation we had hoped for has not been realized. Students are purchasing elsewhere. The quality of our online presence is falling far behind the best standards in higher education.
During the past five years, revenue and profitability have decreased. Compared with 2010-11, our gross bookstore revenue dropped 18 percent by the close of 2014-15 during a period of increasing prices, and our profitability decreased by 60 percent to $300,000. Net bookstore revenue plays an important role in infrastructure development at St. Mary’s. For many years, such revenue has been used to enhance the quality of our students’ education. In recent years, for example, bookstore profit has been used to renovate existing labs and facilities in the School of Science, Engineering and Technology.
Earlier this year, we began to look for a possible new national partner; and in recent weeks we identified Barnes & Noble as the leader in this field, and as the national partner most likely to serve the best interests of the University. Other universities that have successfully partnered with Barnes & Noble include our sister Marianist school, Chaminade University, as well as Catholic University of America, Trinity, SMU, and many others.
Barnes & Noble brings economies of scale with in-store and online merchandising that we cannot otherwise achieve. We estimate that our students will save approximately 10 percent on textbooks, and Barnes & Noble guarantees a lowest-price match on textbooks. Historically, Barnes & Noble has been able to deliver books to students at other universities efficiently and expediently. The quality of the merchandise in our store and online will improve significantly.
Barnes & Noble will provide a 10 percent discount to faculty, staff and alumni on non-book purchases, as well as a 20 percent discount to St. Mary’s departments. Students are expected to save 10 percent on books.
In the coming weeks, Barnes & Noble will be investing $285,000 to enhance the bookstore’s use and appearance. Because of Barnes & Noble’s merchandising and marketing expertise and the quality of its services, we expect that gross revenues and profitability will increase significantly over the next few years.
Yesterday, bookstore staff members were notified of this change. Care for affected staff during such difficult transitions is paramount at St. Mary’s. Existing staff will continue to operate the store for the next six weeks. Barnes & Noble is meeting today with staff to discuss its application procedures and to encourage staff members to apply to work in the bookstore as Barnes & Noble employees. All staff will receive severance packages from St. Mary’s in line with our routine practices, and they will receive severance packages whether or not they are retained as Barnes & Noble employees.
There are no decisions more difficult than these – strategic choices that affect the ongoing relationship of members of our St. Mary’s community with our University. In this case, I feel confident that we have made the right decision – if we are to adapt and change in the best interests of our current and future students, as the Characteristics of Marianist Education encourage us.