The Cost of Fairness

By Thomas F. Coakley ’68 / September / October 2006
November 13th, 2006

I read “The Bookstore Business”with great interest (Elms, May/June). I write from the perspective of a twenty-five-year career in higher education; I serve as vice president for administrative operations at St. Lawrence University. Among my responsibilities is supervising the St. Lawrence Brewer Bookstore, which my university continues to run. My professional role leads me to understand that the article implies a larger story, that of the decision-making complexities inherent in the management of nonprofit institutions with multiple, and often conflicting, goals and objectives.

Universities are constantly maximizing “desired outcomes,” such as the quantity and quality of degrees conferred and of research accomplished. One such outcome is the expectation that faculty, staff, and the broader community are treated fairly. How does one define fair treatment of the bookstore staff?

According to your article, the University’s investment in the bookstore property is underperforming by a lost return of $470,000 per year ($500,000 in market-value rent less the $30,000 the bookstore pays the University annually), lost income that could pay for five more faculty positions or ten more student financial packages.

I certainly don’t pretend to know the answer to this conflict in desired outcomes, but merely wish to point out the complexity in nonprofit environments, where there is always the danger of stepping into a mode of mediocre decision-making that leads to mediocre performance.

Thomas F. Coakley ’68
Canton, N.Y.


What do you think?
See what other readers are saying about this article and add your voice. 
Related Issue
September / October 2006