Muller: Norris goods are bad for your bank account
January 27, 2013
$95.97: the price of a TI-83 calculator from both Amazon and Wal-Mart. The same calculator at the Norris Bookstore? $119.98. How about the silver edition TI-84? That’ll cost $124.97 at Wal-Mart, but a full $174.98 at Norris. Those are just calculators; I don’t even want to get into textbooks, room supplies and $70 hoodies.
I don’t want to complain, and Norris provides students with plenty of essential products, such as baby booties, but after I just spent more than $300 on supplies at the book store this quarter, things officially got real. Now, Daily staffers have already discussed some of the sinister ways that Northwestern robs you blind, so we shouldn’t be surprised. And yet, this process of semi-legitimate exploitation never ceases to amaze me.
Running a university is expensive — I understand and appreciate that. However, that’s why we pay $50,000 annually in tuition, and why we’re expected to donate pretty much continuously once we graduate. Northwestern students — all students really — pay to take part in higher education, but they shouldn’t pay out the nose for the additional required supplies to continue that education. When you go to a restaurant to pay for your meal, you don’t pay another $15 for it to be served on a plate and $20 for the rights to use the silverware. Likewise, when you pay to attend class, you shouldn’t be robbed for access to the supplies required to succeed in them.
Even worse, Norris is often the only provider of certain supplies. If you don’t like their textbook prices, you can usually buy them at Beck’s (you can all breathe easy knowing I did just that. How you like them apples, Norris?), but often that option is impractical. Worse, sometimes they’re the only provider for used books or rentals, different inks and, of course, graphing calculators within walking distance. Consequently, if you need something now, you’re going to Norris.
It’s tempting to use this unique position to charge uncompetitive prices for your goods, but usually that’ll result in general disdain and more than one flaming bag of dog poop on your doorstep. Whoever is responsible for the pricing at Norris either has somehow been spared this treatment or doesn’t understand basic social interaction (my money’s on the first, but you never know). Either way, it doesn’t make those actions appropriate.
Northwestern has the responsibility to provide for its students — that’s what institutions of higher education do. It’d be one thing if this was a for-profit school, but the second you classify yourself as a 501(c)(3) organization, as Northwestern has, your exclusive goal must be to provide educational services in a way that most benefits society. Profiting off the needs of the very people who you claim to be servicing is diametrically opposed to the stated goals of an educational non-profit.
This school continues to take their thousands of students, pick them up by the ankles and shake every penny out of their pockets. When they do this by charging $181 to replace a lost room key that the student originally got for free, or when they don’t let you use your meal swipes at Norris or any cash-based NU dining option without upgrading to a more expensive option, it’s frustrating, but excusable. When they do this by forcing on-campus residents — a category including almost all freshmen, who don’t yet have other housing options — to pay for blatantly overpriced meal plans, or by overcharging for required school supplies, it’s disgraceful.
Now, let me be clear. I’m not saying that Northwestern should subsidize their supplies and take on some cost — which could certainly be argued. I’m just saying that they shouldn’t profit more than companies like Target or Wal-Mart do by selling the very same supplies. Otherwise, there might soon be a growing demand for brown paper bags. Just don’t buy them at Norris; that place is a rip-off.
Yoni Muller is a Weinberg sophomore. He can be reached at email@example.com. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, email a Letter to the Editor to firstname.lastname@example.org.