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Save us some green and forgo unnecessary textbook purchases

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | DECEMBER 18, 2009 7:30 AM

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With finals week over for most, it’s time to celebrate by ripping up notes and selling back books. But many UI students won’t be ecstatic when they realize their books are worth next to nil.

The UI and its students face obvious budgetary constraints amid a stinging recession. To lessen that financial sting, the Editorial Board suggests administrators and faculty examine the feasibility of not purchasing textbooks that require new editions.

“One of the issues with when you look at new editions is, How much has the book changed?” University Bookstore general manager Richard Shannon said. “Why is calculus in a new edition? I don’t know.”

There are four main bookstores near the campus: Iowa Book, the University Bookstore, Beat the Bookstore, and Prairie Lights Books (which carries a limited number of textbooks). Iowa City should, in theory, promote competitive buy-backs of textbooks. But that’s not the case. Students attempting to mitigate the inordinate costs of the semester by selling back expensive textbooks receive little help from stingy bookstores.

Why are stores turning away those students hoping to sell their books? For one, the most expensive texts used by popular classes — such as finance and marketing — are shelving past editions year-to-year to make room for newer versions. While we believe access to the latest scholarly information is paramount, the fiscally unsound market should force administrators and faculty to look at other options.

It’s not the fault of bookstores when they can’t take back textbooks. Shannon said the stores face pressure from two different groups — faculty telling them what they want and bookstore employees getting the texts, either used from students or new from publishers.

It’s time for faculty to ask bookstores for a majority of used, rather than new textbooks. We’re not advocating that professors eschew contemporary knowledge. But permitting students to sell a greater number of their books — a result of requiring fewer brand-new editions — could help ease some of students’ financial woes. Students may even pocket enough money to make up for the $100 tuition surcharge.

Still, the success of such a plan hinges on several factors:

First, the UI should continue ordering new textbooks if the author is a professor, especially because we wholeheartedly believe research assignments and sabbaticals are imperative to the academic reputation of the university.

Next, the university should buy master copies of updated textbook versions. That way, professors could make copies of new information for students, which could the be distributed via handout or posted on the Internet.

We realize the potential copyright issues this plan could raise.

Several college policies deem copyrighted works in the classroom and library reserves as legal under federal copyright law. Nevertheless, an instructor must obtain permission to repeatedly use copyrighted material for a course; such material on electronic reserve and limited to those enrolled in a course is fair use.

Tuition prices and monthly necessities are difficult enough for students, and it’s time to cut them a break. UI officials should look into whether such a textbook plan would work.


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