Critique: Justin Monaco-Barnes' coursewares
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MSU Presidential candidate Justin Monaco-Barnes has a long history of working for the Underground Media + Design, a printing and media service provided by the MSU. He started as a part-time employee and now works full-time as the Services Manager, a student opportunity position offered through the Union.
Monaco-Barnes has a platform point on reducing courseware fees by 30 to 50 percent by printing through the Underground. While the Underground provides reasonable printing fees for the student body, the Campus Store, through Media Production Services — the current primary courseware printer — is currently the cheapest printing service on campus. For example, Underground currently charges eight cents for printing one black and white page, while the Campus Store charges five cents per black and white page.
The printing of coursewares, from any organization or printer, has a few main, consistent costs: the physical costs of printing paper, ink and binding, copyright license fees per article and a cost mark-up that accounts for miscellaneous fees such as labour and other business factors.
While physical printing fees play a role in Campus Store’s low costs, Monaco-Barnes’ promise to reduce the cost of coursewares by printing with the Underground may never be able to come into fruition primarily because of the Underground’s treatment of copyright licenses.
“The price itself, there’s no bias in it, it’s a straight formula. We don’t assign a copyright license fee to pages that we can get under fair [dealing], and that’s something we always do. The goal is the lowest price for a coursepack we can get for our students,” said Deidre Henne, McMaster’s Chief Financial Officer and Associate Vice President (Administration).
The Campus Store, through Media Production Services, has been able to provide the lowest costs for page printing on campus, as they have removed any access copyright fees associated with printing, a fee no longer required for reprinting according to a new law that was implemented by the Ontario government this past December.
“I make [our staff] check all of the pricing in all of the surrounding area, even in Toronto,” said Henne in regards to how The Campus Store calculates their printing fees each year.
The Campus Store is currently able to charge less in regards to copyright licenses because of their Library License Agreement that is provided by the University. This means any article that is offered digitally through McMaster’s library system does not need license fees applied to it when printed in a courseware. This is a luxury only available to The Campus Store at this time, due to their connection to the university. The Underground unfortunately has to charge a license for all articles used, unless McMaster is prepared to extend this Library License to an MSU service.
In an effort to prove to the student body that The Campus Store does in fact charge the lowest price, the store conducted a test to compare their costs to those of the Underground. They purchased three coursewares from the Underground at standard retail price, and calculated how much their version of the same book would cost given their pricing structure:
- Kinesiology 2CC3: A book that cost $29.99 at Underground would cost $17.60 at The Campus Store — a saving of 41%.
- Kinesiology 2C03: A book that cost $35.42 at Underground would cost $19.55 at The Campus Store — a saving of 45%.
- Kinesiology 4T03: A book that cost $39.99 at Underground would cost $19.95 at The Campus Store — a saving of 50%.
In addition to arguing that the cost would be lower, which at this time appears to be false, Monaco-Barnes also claims that selling through the Underground can increase the budgets of student services. This claim is also misleading as The Campus Store does currently foot a large bill for Student Affairs, a university service that helps fund Accessibility Services, Housing, Off-Campus Services, International Student Services and more. To imply that The Campus Store is providing less for students than what the Underground could is misleading. While the Underground could technically route more money back to the MSU, it is important to remember that the MSU is a non-profit organization and the goals of its services is to have a break-even budget, not necessarily to make a profit for increased servicing.