Op-ed Article in The Chronicle About Textbooks

Let’s talk about textbooks. They are expensive and are generally under-utilized throughout the semester. While most are quick to cite price-gouging by publishers and retailers, there is another group of individuals that share culpability. I would like to offer some perspective on the role that our faculty play, in what I will call the “Textbook Crisis,” at Purdue University Calumet.

Some might criticize my dramatization of the textbook problem at Purdue Calumet as a “Textbook Crisis,” but let us take a closer look at the issue. There is an economic disparity when it comes to textbooks where the primary consumer of textbooks is not the individual making the initial purchase decision. What exactly does this mean? Our faculty make textbook adoptions for each course and students are expected to fork it over. For example, you have registered for English 104 this Fall. Professor XYZ, decided to use the textbook bundle published by Pearson Higher Education which costs $195. Professor XYZ made the purchase decision for you and you have no choice but to pay the exorbitant price for the textbook bundle because the price you pay if you don’t have the book is failure.

Here is another scenario that you might be familiar with. The semester has ended, you passed the class but you don’t want to keep the book and would like to get some of that $195 back. So you take your book bundle back to Follett and your heart drops as the clerk rings up the book and you see $40 plastered across the digital screen. You begin to voice your frustration and the clerk quickly tries to placate you by saying that “it is unknown whether that book will be in use next semester.” I am taking a few things for granted in this scenario. One of which is the fact that, more often than not, Follett won’t buy your book back because a new edition has been adopted or the book is changing.

If either of these situations sound familiar you are not alone. Most of you are so angry when this happens that you don’t realize why Follett won’t buy your book back. It could be that the Professor XYZ decided to update to the 2010 model of the textbook that offer new features such as; color charts and graphs, grammatical fixes, index additions, etc. In doing so, your 2009 model of the textbook is obsolete and therefore Follett won’t give you anything for your $195 book.

How do we solve this problem? Your Student Government is holding the faculty accountable. We are authoring legislation that will urge faculty members to maintain textbook adoptions for at least four semesters, thereby increasing the amount of used textbooks in circulation. It will request that our faculty post textbook adoptions sooner, so students can shop around and make practical purchase decisions. Most importantly, the legislation will ask those charged with choosing our textbooks to look into open source textbooks that are FREE on the Internet.

On October 28th students across the nation will be joining forces in a day of action to promote this issue. Join your Student Government in lobbying the faculty at Purdue Calumet and urge them to stop playing party to the publishing companies and give students some relief. Text PUCSG to 66937 to receive updates about this initiative or email pucstudent.gov@gmail.com with “Stop Textbook Price Gouging!” in the subject line.

~David L. Ober; Student Body President