Book buy-back leaves students with more than extra cash

By Tiffanie Reynolds |

When Belltower Books hired Jessica Solomon, all she thought she would be getting back was money for her books next semester.

“One of the first questions I asked was would it be an issue with the school. They said it shouldn’t be an issue. Occasionally we [Belltower] have problems but we just talk to the school, look at their actual contract with the bookstore and then it’s not an issue,” said Solomon.

Last month, Solomon, Megan England and Carlos Nicot, who were also hired to work on campus, were told by Dirk Hibler, assistant dean of Student Services, that they violated school policy by running a business from their dorms and threatened expulsion if they continued to buy back books from students.

All three students found their jobs from fliers posted in the auditorium and in the Ringhaver Student Center. They also met a company representative for interviews and job training in the Righaver Student Center.

“We had our training on how to use our PDAs, scanning, putting stickers on the books, bar codes, all that good stuff,” said England.

Rommel C. Beckles, regional director of Belltower Books, explains that the company works like a pizza delivery service. Students can make appointments on their website and the student working on campus will meet them to buy back their books.

“If a situation does arise, we begin a conversation with the relevant administrators to explain our business model,” said Beckles in an e-mail interview.

The company was brought to Hibler and Dean Dan Stewart’s attention by one of the Flagler College Bookstore managers. The tiny, orange fliers posted around campus is what first caught their eye. When they found out that the students working for Belltower were living on campus, they decided to address the situation personally.

“What we’re trying to do is make sure that our bookstore has first choice of students, of buybacks. We have a separate entity coming on our campus to undercut our bookstore by using our students as the contact point,” said Stewart.

The Flagler College Bookstore, which is run and owned by a local bookstore owner, made a contract with the college when the college didn’t want to run the bookstore themselves. Among other details, the contract makes sure that the bookstore is the first choice for students and doesn’t have any unapproved competition on campus.

Although this is the first time they have identified the students working for the company, this is not the first time dealing with Belltower Books. The school first saw fliers from Belltower in spring 2010 and called the company, who said they wouldn’t do business on campus again. Stewart spotted fliers again this past fall and spring semester.

“I’m scared. I don’t want to get expelled. I have one more semester here and this is ridiculous,” said Solomon.

England and Nicolt voiced the same worries. Although they stopped buying books at Hibler’s request, the situation has left all of them a little shaken.

Beckles did not recall the phone call, but says that Stewart did contact him through e-mail in spring 2009 about approving their fliers. At the time of the interview, Belltower Books did not talk to Flagler about the situation.

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