Students have had plenty of time to contemplate the exorbitant cost of textbooks while waiting in line at local bookstores this week. Don’t worry though, the University has a task force on it. That doesn’t do much to make you feel better about dropping three figures on a 600-page, hard-bound monstrosity that you later find out was only “mildy recommended” (though the sign in the bookstore said otherwise). But at least improvements are in the works. The question is, when will we start to see substantial results?

Sarah Royce

Lester Monts, the University’s senior vice provost for academic affairs, launched the textbook task force in June 2006. Late last semester, the task force ranked the University of Michigan 38 out of 39 universities with regard to their systems of making book lists available early. Everyone agrees that a problem exists. The proposed solution – creating an online database where students can access book lists before each semester – is not perfect, but it at least attempts to alleviate the problem.

The plan would let students know what books they need early enough to order them through online retailers, who have significantly lower prices in general than the bookstores. That plan would help but it is only part of the solution – one which still won’t be in place for at least another year.

Professors would be urged but not required to post book lists online before the semester. The University continues to labor under the delusion that requiring professors to do so would overstep its authority. Certainly some professors might object, wanting every last minute to decide which of three expensive books they want to use. However, because they have to settle on one eventually, asking them to do so a month or so in advance is not exactly totalitarian.

Textbook reform must also go beyond just posting book lists online. Professors must say on the online list which books are required and which ones are recommended, and they should elaborate on what the purpose of the recommended books is so students are better informed when deciding whether to buy them.

Another welcome improvement would be the end of unnecessary book bundles. Too often, students pay extra for a two- or three-book bundle when only one of those will be used, a terrible waste of money and paper.

Speaking of a terrible waste of money and paper, a complete overhaul of coursepacks is long overdue. A university at the brink of a completely digitized library should be able to recognize the wastefulness of forcing students buy hard copies of readings that are very often available for free online through outlets like ProQuest. Knowing which readings are part of the coursepack will let students decide on their own if they want to print out each one, read it online or ignore it completely, should it never come up in class.

These changes aren’t radical. They’ve been discussed for years, and there’s no better time than now to finally give students a break on textbooks.

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