The sudden closure of TU Copy left students and employees scrambling to find affordable alternatives.
A vital campus resource. Three long-time employees. No notice. The closure of the University of Tulsa’s student copy shop, known as TU Copy, involved all of these things, surrounded by rumors long before and after it closed.
It started with a deal with Cambridge Information Group (CIG), headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland. Petroleum Abstracts, the company that ran TU Copy and Petroleum Abstracts Document Delivery, was suffering, and it was looking for a potential buyer, according to two former employees of Petroleum Abstracts, Alice McCommas and Kathy George. Talks with the privately-held investment firm started at the beginning of the fall semester.
Alice McCommas, who was in charge of document control, said the employees of Petroleum Abstracts were kept in the dark.
“We had to kind of be in limbo from August to March, which was really, really stressful,” McCommas said.
In October, McCommas was moved from directly working at TU Copy to being located in the Petroleum Abstracts offices in the law college, shortly after the deal with CIG.
“They probably knew by then [that they were going to shut down TU Copy], but their excuse was that they wanted it to look full in the law school when CIG came by to look at the department,” McCommas speculated.
Then, on January 30, the two employees who worked at TU Copy were brought in at 10 a.m. to speak with Janet Levit and human resources representatives.
The employees were told they would no longer have a job. The director of Petroleum Abstracts, Ivana O’Clark, was out of the state at the time.
The employees continued working until 2 p.m. that day, helping students until the human resource representative told the them to close TU Copy. The human resource representative, George said, needed to get back to their job.
Of the two remaining TU Copy employees, one was able to retire. The other, Kathy George, was one year away from being able to retire. George had worked for the university for 42 years — since she was 18 years old.
When George left the university, she and the other employee were told they would get preference for any future jobs. George does not believe it.
“I have interviewed for three jobs and so far none of them have come through,” George said.
McCommas quit soon after in late March. She was told that normally, administration is willing to bridge the time left to retire early by months. McCommas’s date to retire was in October 2019, but she was set to retire early. However, university administration did not tell McCommas until March that they would not let her retire early, she said.
Now, instead of paying what was around $350 a month for insurance, McCommas has to pay around $760 for another 16 months. George is in a similar situation, but for her, unemployment does not pay enough to cover this over-doubling in price.
Rumors of TU Copy shutting down with the purchase of Petroleum Abstracts reached the TU Copy office January 24, George said.
George emailed the interim director of Petroleum Abstracts, Ivana O’Brien, about this rumor, saying, “Good afternoon, guess we have a question for you. The saying over here in the library is that we are closing February 1. Is this true or just rumor?”
O’Brien responded back a few hours later. “Negotiations are still on-going as far as I’m told, but I hope to know more in a couple of weeks,” O’Brien’s email read.
A week later, TU Copy was shut down.
In a statement from Mona Chamberlin, senior executive director of marketing and communications at the University of Tulsa, she stated, “Before the decision was made to end services, administrators reviewed the actual monthly utilization of TU Copy for student copying. They found that the utilization numbers for students not having theses and dissertations printed by TU Copy were exceptionally low. We believe Kinko’s/FedEx or another professional copying service within close proximity of campus is a better long-term solution for the printing of theses and dissertations.”
She continued, “We will continue to monitor usage of printers, and we welcome input from students on the best ways to meet their needs while identifying avenues to increase efficiencies across campus.”
However, other accounts claim that TU Copy’s place at the university was not simply to generate revenue.
“It was supposed to be a service to the student. As far as I know, we were designated a non-profit,” McCommas said.
George added, “It’s true, just on our own, document delivery or TU Copy, no, we were not making enough to cover enough people’s salary, expenses, the papers that were going to it.”
Some of the services TU Copy provided included making and distributing course packs, copying students’ notes and chapters out of textbooks and printing various personal requests of students and faculty. While it was not free, it was considerably cheaper than outside printing options, such as FedEx, which charges 20 cents a page compared to the five cents that TU Copy charged.
The effects of TU Copy’s shutdown are already being felt on campus. “It is going to be a big deal,” said Jon Arnold, associate history professor. “I have some classes, like the course I’m teaching in the fall, where the only textbook is the course pack.”
Course packs that were previously sold in TU Copy will now be available at the campus bookstore. However, there are limitations to this new arrangement.
Arnold claims that he will no longer be able to include his own translations or include certain texts, such as ones that are out of print, with the two companies that the bookstore will outsource to.
“That puts me in a position of, do I make the course pack, put it on Harvey, and say, ‘You guys need to print this’?” Arnold said. “Do I go to Kinkos, print 25 of them, and say, ‘You guys need to buy this from me’? Do I self-publish? I don’t really know.”
When TU Copy closed this semester, half of the students in Arnold’s class had not purchased the course pack yet. Without advance notice, the students and professors were left scrambling.
An email sent out to professors by administration said, “Course pack materials and other course content can be made available to your students through your Harvey courses. You are encouraged to use Harvey for this purchase and using Harvey will reduce student cost and make all of your course material readily available to your students.”
The email continued, “If physical course packs are necessary, arrangements can be made through TU’s Bookstore at 11th and Harvard.”
Frequent TU Copy user and women’s and gender studies student DC Hegdale found out about the closure on her way to use the copy shop. She argues the free printing allowance from campus computers is not enough.
“I love the way TU gives us a pretty high, pretty free printing allowance, and it’s pretty standard in my experience at one other institution,” Hegdale said. “That’s great, but printing is not the only thing I do as a student. There are times when I have to print something for a presentation and it requires copies, where we are only allowed black and white on our printing allowance, and there are times when I need to get a photocopy of something, and our printers don’t do that.”
Petroleum Abstracts now houses the expensive color printers once held in TU Copy, but they are now only accessible to Petroleum Abstracts employees — not to students.
Hegdale’s email to University President Gerard Clancy, sent the day of the closure, said this has caused her to “strongly consider” transferring to OSU-Tulsa. “These combined issues push me more and more toward feeling disregarded and discounted as a student — but especially as a future alumni,” said Hegdale.
President Clancy was not able to comment as to whether there was a relationship between the closure of TU Copy and the larger administrative changes recently announced by the PPRC.
Ivana O’Brien and other administrators did not respond to requests for interviews.