Eight weeks into the fall 2020 semester, some students at Dickinson State University still do not have their class books.
"I can share that over the last three years, it has gotten progressively worse and yes, there are still students without textbooks. They’re sharing textbooks," said Keith James, director of student life at DSU.
In a recent survey, 27% of responding students and 24% of responding faculty reported that they had difficulty getting course materials.
"It’s just one thing after another with our bookstore right now, and our students are getting quite frustrated that every experience they seem to have is not a positive one," said James.
The Bismarck campus has also had issues with the bookstore.
"Our students in Bismarck, with the bookstore, are very, very frustrated also," said Nicole Kadrmas, assistant director at the Horizon Building. "They try to call, no one answers the phone. No one answers emails. It could be three weeks before they get a textbook, and they keep getting the run-around … so they’re going elsewhere for their books."
In a recent Coffee and Conversation meeting, faculty expressed concerns about the university's bookstore.
"The whole reason we do the surveys and have Coffee and Conversation communications is to find out what potential issues are out there," said President Stephen Easton. "... Some students and faculty believe we're having problems with the bookstore. We're looking into that. I asked academic affairs provost Dragseth and others to find out ... specifics ... so I don't really know the extent of the issues."
DSU's bookstore is operated by Follett Higher Education Group, which took over operations last year. Previously, the bookstore was run by the university itself.
Easton has spoken with Emily Porter, regional manager of sales and operation for Follett, about the issues but will have a more detailed conversation with her once the specific data is gathered.
Porter was unavailable for comment at the time of this publication.
In the meantime, faculty discussed options to help students who have not yet gotten their materials.
James suggested possibly putting textbooks on reserve in the library for students to use. Loretta Heidt, chair of the school of business and entrepreneurship at DSU, suggested faculty members contact the publisher of their textbook.
"I would contact my representative at the publisher, and I would ask for assistance for that student," Heidt said. "In the past, I have gotten a free code sent to me that I could give to that student, or they have sent me a link to an e-text, so that student would at least have access to that e-textbook."
Debora Dragseth, Ph.D., vice president of academic affairs, mentioned in the meeting that the University of North Dakota is having similar problems with Follett.
UND leaders mentioned the issue at a faculty and staff town hall Aug. 28.
Jed Shivers, vice president for finance and operations at UND, answered questions related to students not having the books they need due to issues with the bookstore.
"It turns out that this is a nationwide phenomenon," he said. "Follett is having a great deal of trouble having people work for them in bookstores, and they have had an enormous amount of difficulty in recruiting people and particularly recruiting people here."
Shivers said that the university's president contacted the president of Follett, and the company has pledged to rectify the situation.