Claiming that businesses on the University of Maryland College Park campus pose "grossly unfair" competition, the College Park Board of Trade has passed a resolution denouncing student co-operatives and university enterprises.
The formal resolution came after a survey mailed to the board's member-firms showed that 88 per cent of those responding objected to their tax dollars being spent to "partially fund campus businesses" and in 59 per cent of the cases to "help subsidize our competition."
Robert Pugh, outgoing board president, would not say how many of its 73 members responded to the questionaire because "the board voted against releasing those figures." He added that the businesses that responded have a total a 246 full-time employees.
The merchants say that student-run co-ops have the competitive advantage of choice locations, low or no rents, a captive clientele and interest-free funding.
The board took action "to let the feelings of the business community be known," Pugh said. In the past, individual merchants have complained frequently to university officials, but this is the first time they have taken a formal stand on the issue.
Another board member, Ronald Timmons, said the intent of the resolution, which the board will send to state and county legislators, "is to pressure the university into setting a formal policy governing student businesses."
William Thomas, a university vice chancellor, said, "We'd probably all be worse off with a rigid policy." Thomas has been surveying other universities to compare their guidelines for student-run businesses, but has not yet made any recommendations.
Although the university board of regents' policy requires student businesses "to be directly related to the educational process," College Park Chancellor Robert L. Gluckstern said, "We might consider a co-op proposal if there is a viable demand for one and if it's something not readily available in the community."
There are no existing state regulations limiting the university's autonomy in deciding whether to allow a new business on campus, according to Terry Roach, an assistant state attorney general.
"We don't want to make an adversary of the university," Pugh said. "But we have to preserve our position. We have to make a profit and it's impossible to compete with those who don't."
Those who don't at the University of Maryland are bicycle, food and record co-ops operating "for the people, not for profit."
At first, ideology and enthusiasm were not enough to keep them alive. The "Ho Chi Minh Record Co-op" - more politically than business oriented - disappeared one week after it opened on campus four years ago. Similar ventures with books and food aroused more thetoric than action.
But that was then. Now on campus, the fourishing record co-op has forced one College Park record store to shut down. Another local store threatened to sue the university, and others in the community report a decline in sales even though they have lowered their prices.
When the bicycle repair co-op opened in a dormitory basement last fall, one bike shop owner testified before the University of Maryland budget committee, saying that "the business of a university is education, not repairing bicycles." Since then, the store's repair business has slacked off according to its present owner, ROnald Timmons.
All the student businesses on campus have sparked controversy, but none to the extent of the socialistic food co-op.
"Smash capitalism," says a sign on the door of its Student Union basement store. WHen one student remarked, "I like the food but hate the politics," a co-op worker replied, "Politics are the reason the prices are cheap and the food is good. The collective is antiprofit and only interested in serving the community's needs. It will exist as long as the students support it." Last year, more than 1,500 students a day supported the co-op, according to a cash register tally.
After months of turning down the co-op's requests for more space, the university recently signed a three-year lease allowing it to move to a larger room in the Student Union. Although university vice chancellor Thomas said he finally yielded to their demands "because they stopped asking for the sky." Student Union director David Hubler said the reason "in simplest terms, was that they'd (co-op members) probably kick up their heels, lay down and demonstrate again."
Hubler said that a "no fills" lunch counter was introduced this year in response to competition by the student co-op.
Though the campus food co-op is an incorporated business that pays a relatively low rent of $1.25 per square foot, more than 80 per cent of its air conditioning, heating and other maintenance cost are absorbed by the university. And the bicycle co-op, which serves 50 customers a week according to its student manager, Charles Frederiksen, is charged no rent.
"We're trying to help students, while the businessmen only want their money. When a student pays unbelievable amounts for his education, why should he have to pay $16 an hour in labor costs alone to fix his bike?" said Frederiksen.
At issue is whether university co-ops, funded by student activity fees, should be defined as a state-subsidized business. A state attorney general's ruling classifies student fees as state funds, but former student government president Howard Gordon said, "We've gotten around that by calling any appropriations "loans."