This year, three major publishing companies filed a lawsuit against Follett Higher Education, the vendor that provides textbooks and other merchandise for Loyola’s bookstore.
These publishing companies — Pearson Education, McGraw-Hill Education and Cengage Learning — sued Follett in June, according to EdSurge, an online source that provides news and research about learning technology. The companies accused Follett of buying illegally reproduced materials from various smaller distribution companies, a practice which would keep the original publishers from receiving the money they should be owed.
The lawsuit was dismissed after Follett agreed to adhere to a number of guidelines designed to prevent future counterfeit incidents. However, Carol Wood, a representative of Follett, said that Follett denies the claims made by the lawsuit.
“We have always categorically denied the allegations in the lawsuit and we continue to do so,” Wood said.
Joanna Pappas, assistant provost and director of academic business operations at Loyola, didn’t know about the lawsuit when asked about it. She said Loyola renewed and amended their contract with Follett in April, before the lawsuit was filed.
However, Pappas said if the university had been in the middle of the hiring process when the lawsuit came about, there would’ve been many questions asked.
“We’d have to adhere to the contract, we cannot just drop it,” Pappas said. “If we do just drop Follett we would have to refer to the termination clause in the contract, otherwise they can turn around and sue us. I cannot speak for the committee and all of its constituents but I feel fairly certain we would have talked about it internally [had we known about the lawsuit].”
Pappas said the vendor selection process involves a committee of Loyola representatives that reviews a series of presentations from competing vendors.
“We do vet our vendors pretty well and we have a pretty close contract that they know they have to comply with,” Pappas said. “We have an open house for vendors to come and submit their answers to a whole bunch of questions and the committee reviews it based on [Loyola’s] standards. We invite people to campus, and they then present in person. It’s an open forum of back and forth discussion, with a follow up — it’s a long and fairly detailed process.”
Loyola’s committee provides a large document of questions, including one asking whether or not the vendor has been involved in any past lawsuits, according to Pappas. This document asks about vendors’ green initiatives, social justice practices and hiring practices.
Pappas said she considered the committee to be fairly well-represented, with members representing all of Loyola’s campus. She also stood behind the decision to hire Follett.
“Follett knows our university,” Pappas said. “The gross majority of Jesuit universities use Follett so they understand our mission and our vision. They identify with our social justice initiative.”
Wood listed some of Follett’s social justice practices, which include hurricane and disaster relief, a partnership with Chavez for Charity (a company that donates a quarter of their profits to charity), and many supply and food drives.
Junior Emily Lopez, an elementary education major, said Follett should’ve been held more accountable. When asked how else Follett should have responded instead, she suggested that they release the names of the third-party sellers possibly involved in counterfeiting textbooks.
Lopez also said that if she were on the committee responsible for hiring a vendor, she would prioritize vendors’ social justice practices when vetting the contenders.
“I believe [social justice practices] is definitely a huge part of why a vendor should be chosen,” Lopez said. “Their views should fall similarly in line with what the school believes and ultimately what the students are going to be involved in as well. I think [it’s important to] make sure that the vendor has the students’ best interests in mind, and to be more open with their resources.”
According to CollegeBoard, the average student at a private, nonprofit four-year institution will spend roughly $1,000 on textbooks per year. Since professors are the ones selecting course reading material, students are left to figure out the most affordable option when buying textbooks.
George Gueorguiev, a 21-year-old biology major, said if he were on the committee in charge of vetting potential vendors, he would prioritize prices as the reason to hire a vendor.
“I know people hate paying for extra stuff on top of tuition and all these other things so to be perfectly honest … that’s probably my first concern,” Gueorguiev said.
Conversely, sophomore Emily Diecks, a neuroscience major, said that social justice practices should take precedence in the vetting process.
“[Social justice] kind of encompasses both fairness for the students and fairness for the authors and publishers,” Diecks said.
She also voiced her concern over the practices that led Follett to possibly buy counterfeit materials.
“In the end, even if the book is lower-priced, it’s not fair to buy counterfeit books,” Diecks said.
At the time of the lawsuit, Follett called it an attempt to prevent them from offering textbooks and materials to students at low prices, according to EdSurge.
Gueorguiev took issue with Follett’s claim that it was trying to offer the lowest prices possible.
“I think it’s ridiculous that they think that they’re offering the lowest price on anything because at the end of the day, 90 percent of the time you can get it cheaper online,” Gueorguiev said. “I don’t usually get things from [Loyola’s] bookstore anyway, so for them to say they’re trying to offer us lower prices I think is crazy.”
Wood said that Follett is continuing its commitment to addressing counterfeit issues post-lawsuit.
In addition to adopting the guidelines, Wood said they are working closely with publishers to prevent the future buying and selling of suspected counterfeits.