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Volume 71, Issue 48, Thursday, November 3, 2005


Senate battles textbook tricks

By Barrett Goldsmith 
Senior Staff Writer

As textbook publishers continue to tighten their squeeze on college students, the UH Faculty Senate is trying to ensure teachers don't add to the pressure. 

The Senate is working on legislation to prevent instructors from imposing unnecessary costs on students. The legislation actually passed the Senate in November 2004, but the administrators have yet to adopt the legislation as University policy.

"We're concerned about professors profiting unduly at the expense of students," said Dan Wells, chair of the Educational Policies and Student Affairs Committee. "We've heard a lot of complaints from students, and we felt like we needed to do something about it."

The legislation discourages so-called custom book packages bundled with workbooks, software and other books. It also prevents professors from employing tear-out pages that must be removed and turned into the instructor, thus rendering the book incapable of being resold. 

Most of the trouble, Wells said, comes from assigning books authored by the instructor, for which the instructor receives royalties. That creates a conflict of interest that encourages instructors to keep textbook prices high, Wells said. The Senate legislation makes exceptions for instructors who write nationally-distributed textbooks. 

"We want to encourage faculty members to publish nationally and to recruit new faculty who have authored these books," Wells said. "But we don't want some professor cutting five chapters out of the book and getting editing royalties, or just creating some customized packaging scheme."

Wells said custom books and tear-out pages are part of an attempt by textbook publishers to keep prices high and stifle the market on used books, a market that has surged to record levels over the past five years. 

But UH psychology professor Richard Kasschau said textbook publishers are not the real villains in the story. Kasschau said used textbook companies and online retailers are forcing new textbook prices through the roof. 

"When a used textbook is sold, none of that money goes back to the publisher, even though they take all the risk with a book," Kasschau said. "So in essence they have only one year to make money off the book, then it's just out there for anyone to profit off of." 

The Senate bill, which is now under review by Provost Donald Foss, also prevents instructors from profiting from the sale of class notes and syllabi, which some professors print at copy shops or at home and sell to students for prices higher than the printing costs. 

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