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Editorial -- Coop No Longer Deserves Monopoly

The Harvard Cooperative Society's 1991-92 member rebate of 1.1 percent is a disgrace. Although members could once use their Coop cards with the reassurance that a decent percentage of their purchases would be refunded to them, those days are long gone. The steady decline of the Coop rebate over the past five years has now degenerated into a plummet.

Despite the Coop's claims to the contrary, poor management bears much of the blame for the decline. It is no coincidence that the relocation of the main MIT store to Kendall Square marks the beginning of the downturn in Coop rebates. The Coop no longer deserves to hold a monopoly on the MIT textbook market. Competition in the textbook market will benefit students, Coop members, and perhaps the Coop itself.

We, the students, need to create and operate a true cooperative society dedicated to fulfilling the original intent of the Coop. The Undergraduate Association and the Graduate Student Council could easily gain standing among the student population by taking on this challenge and installing a student-run cooperative for textbooks.

For underwear, toasters, notebooks, compact discs, trade paperbacks, and anything other than textbooks, students have a choice between the Coop and other retailers. Students deserve this same choice for textbooks. Since open competition for textbook sales is not feasible -- students would run all over Boston and Cambridge trying to see which store has a specific title at the lowest price -- the best solution is limited competition. A new cooperative which attempts to compete with the Coop -- even if it only carries the textbooks for a few large classes -- is a good, workable idea.

With a rent-free student center location (perhaps La Sala de Puerto Rico for the first few weeks of each term) and low administrative overhead, the new cooperative could offer textbooks closer to cost than the Coop and still manage to give rebates to students. If students are hired to run the store, that overhead will be pumped back into the pockets of the student body.

MIT should stand strongly behind the idea of a student-run cooperative, encouraging faculty to transfer book orders for classes to the new operation. The Coop can still function as one of the MIT textbook resources, and continue compete with Lechmere, Filene's, and Newbury Comics in its other retail operations. While there are sure to be hassles and imperfections in a new student-run cooperative, the time has come for students to do something about the problems in the Coop.