Faculty required to list textbook orders with Hawk Shop following bookstore private-partnership agreement

As the Iowa Hawk Shop transitions to private management, faculty will be required to place all course material orders with the university-affiliated store.


Brianna Brown

Textbooks for the 2020 school year are stacked.

Rylee Wilson, News Editor

As the Iowa Hawk Shop transitions to private management, faculty will now be required to place all course materials orders with the Hawk Shop, leaving some concerned about impacts on local bookshops. 

Faculty will still be allowed to order at other vendors, such as Iowa Book or Prairie Lights downtown, in addition to the Hawk Shop. Previously, faculty were not required to place orders with the University of Iowa’s bookstore, located in the basement of the Iowa Memorial Union, 

The state Board of Regents approved an operating agreement between Follett Higher Education Group and the university on March 12. The agreement goes into effect on April 22. 

The contract agreement between Follett and the UI states: “the university shall not enter into an agreement, license, or endorse any other provider (both on campus and online) of course materials during this contract term.” 

Bill Nelson, associate dean and executive director of the Iowa Memorial Union, said that faculty can still order course materials to other vendors in addition to the Hawk Shop, but that only the Hawk Shop option will be displayed in MyUI, the UI’s online hub for class registration and student information, when students look at their lists of course materials. 

“If a faculty member wants to place their course materials options with a local bookstore or a virtual vendor, they can certainly do that. They can list that on their syllabus, if they would like to,” Nelson said. “The only difference is they’re now required to list with the University of Iowa Hawk Shop and bookstore. It’s up to the student where they purchase them.” 

This is the second public/private partnership the UI has entered as UI administrators look to alternative funding sources from state lawmakers or student tuition. The UI entered into an agreement for an energy conglomerate to operate its utility systems in 2019.

Kristine Muñoz, a professor in the department of Spanish and Portuguese, said that though she typically orders from the Hawk Shop, many in her department choose to order through independent bookstores. 

“We’re going to shift them over to the Hawk Shop in the dead of night,” she said. “That strikes me as a corporate grab for profit that university faculty would have objected to in the strongest possible terms had we heard anything about it. We didn’t hear anything about it until it was done.” 

Nelson said this type of agreement is standard for institutionally affiliated bookstores operated by a private company. Currently, 10 of 14 Big Ten universities operate their bookstores through private partners. 

The University of Nebraska and Michigan State University also partner with Follett to manage operations of their university-affiliated bookstores.

As previously reported by The Daily Iowan, the university started seeking a private partnership for the Hawk Shop in September of 2020, after several years of operating at a loss. 

Virgil ‘Scooter’ Hare, textbook manager for Iowa Book, said he found out about the new policy from concerned faculty. 

“Iowa Book and Prairie Lights were blindsided by this, because the Hawk Shop hadn’t reached out to us,” he said. “We found out second-hand and third-hand from instructors and other people about the information.” 

Nelson said a letter under the signature of University Treasurer and Senior Financial Officer Terry Johnson was sent to Iowa Book and Prairie Lights through the postal service last week. Hare said he had not yet received that communication. 

Hare said some instructors are concerned about new requirements limiting professor’s choices about how to distribute course materials. 

“We have a long-standing tradition here at the University of Iowa of academic freedom, which includes the instructor’s choice of materials they choose to teach in class and how they are disseminated – whether that be a book or not, where that book is located, and how it can be purchased,” he said. 

Aside from academic freedom, Hare said he does not think the new requirements will make a huge impact on sales at Iowa Book. 

“Us personally – I don’t really think it’s going to be a big dent,” he said. “Incoming students or new students, that might be the only way they think they can get their textbooks, is looking at MyUI and seeing the Hawk Shop, and not realizing that there’s Iowa Book or Prairie Lights.” 

Jan Weissmiller, owner of Prairie Lights bookstore, said while students will no longer see links to Prairie Lights in MyUI, she  expects students who like coming to Prairie Lights to continue purchasing their books at the store. 

“We’re hoping that the people who have been ordering their books from us for decades will continue to do so, and that they will let their students know that the books are here. In that case the impact shouldn’t be devastating,” she said. “We carry mostly books for literature and writing classes and those students really enjoy Prairie Lights.” 

She said many students choose to buy from the Prairie Lights because of the literary community it offers. 

There are advantages to buying from Prairie Lights if you’re a writing student or a literature student, because when you’re in Prairie Lights  you browse  all the other books we carry — all the classics and contemporary literature that aren’t necessarily being taught but are still of vital interest,” she said. “All those books are here, and we’ve got a knowledgeable staff that love to talk to students about what they’re reading. And, our service is fast.”