It started in the late 1970s when a couple of music professors from Cal State Fullerton walked into Tom O’Connor’s little bookstore about half a mile from campus. Dissatisfied with service at the campus store, they asked O’Connor to stock books for their classes.
Over the years, Little Professor Book Center has grown into a formidable competitor for the campus bookstore, claiming a third of the Cal State Fullerton textbook business. About 200 professors order their books from Little Professor, the store’s owners say -- including most in the English, history, American studies, comparative religion and adolescent psychology departments.
“You could say some departments are boycotting the campus bookstore and using Little Professor,” said Thomas Klammer, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
Now some on campus accuse the university of giving the campus bookstore an unfair advantage by requiring professors to provide administrators copies of their book lists months before classes begin. The rule would allow the campus bookstore to find out what Little Professor will be stocking and order the same titles -- regardless of instructors’ wishes.
“What disturbs me terribly is the clear effort that’s been going on for a number of years to not just hurt Little Professor but to drive them out of business and return to the days of a monopoly,” said John Ibson, a professor of American Studies.
Tucked in the corner of a shopping center, Little Professor -- which is part of a small chain of commercial bookstores but operates independently -- long ago stopped stocking bestsellers, magazines and stationery. Now it only carries books for Cal State Fullerton classes.
Professors say they started using Little Professor because service was poor at Titan Shops. The campus bookstore, they said, often ordered late or didn’t order enough books.
English professor Jane Hipolito said that in the late 1980s a third of her students in one class couldn’t get books. “At that point I said to them, ‘I will never do this to another class,’ ” and she began sending her students off campus. “Little Professor has consistently been beyond heroic in finding these texts.”
The campus bookstore is owned by the CSUF Foundation, a nonprofit corporation that uses its proceeds to support the university. Foundation executive director Bill Dickerson disagrees with professors who say Little Professor provides better service.
“If books are not available on the first day of class it would most likely be because of a late order or some problem with the publisher,” Dickerson said.
Dean Klammer said he thought that the stories of problems with Titan in the past had been passed down to new faculty in some departments almost as oral tradition.
“For whatever reason, the unhappiness is located in a few departments,” he said, “but their feelings are very intense.”
History professor Gayle Brunelle said campus officials had strongly encouraged professors to use Titan Shops.
In the last year, she said, Klammer, Dickerson and bookstore manager Jerry Olson each met with the history department to persuade faculty members to order their books on campus.
“We’ve had so much pressure on us, you couldn’t believe it,” Brunelle said.
Against the backdrop of decades-long tension between Little Professor and Titan, the fighting erupted again this year when the college announced that professors had to turn in their book lists to the university Oct. 15, more than three months before the spring semester. Until now, teachers using Little Professor had not provided their lists to the university.
Ephraim Smith, the vice president of academic affairs, said the school needed the lists to ensure that large-print or Braille editions would be available for disabled students.
In a letter to CSUF President Milton Gordon, Little Professor’s owners said that the early date was a “smokescreen” and that the real reason for the new posting requirements was to enable Titan Shops to obtain copies of book lists sent to Little Professor.
“It is clear that the date established benefits the Titan Shops and has nothing to do with disabled students, especially when students cannot register for classes four months prior to the start of term,” the owners wrote.
Gordon has not replied to the letter, but other university officials insisted they needed the book lists early because some students begin registering months before classes begin. Class signups for the spring semester, for instance, began early this month.
Regardless of the flap over book lists, Klammer said that it wasn’t the university’s concern to make sure Little Professor stays in business.
“My question is to what extent should the university, as a public entity, worry about whether making information available will make that business go away,” he said. “It’s not appropriate for us to be concerned about that.”