At least it was unseasonably warm as LSA freshman Robin Goldberg stood in line outside campus bookstore Shaman Drum last week.
Nothing else seemed to be going her way.
“Because so many professors only order from Shaman Drum, I’m forced to come here and pay their prices,” she said. “I have a friend who is triple-majoring and had to take on a second job just to pay for her textbooks.”
In an attempt to address the high cost of textbooks, the Michigan Student Assembly and LSA Student Government held a forum last night in the Pendelton room of the Michigan Union to discuss textbook prices with University administrators, bookstore owners and students.
The panel, which included Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Lester Monts and Shaman Drum owner Karl Pohrt, among others, tried to answer students’ questions about the textbook market.
Most of the questions asked during the hour-and-a-half long forum concerned the rising cost of textbooks and why the University isn’t doing more to foster competition in the textbook market. Suggestions included posting reading lists in advance and uploading readings online.
Monts defended the University’s decentralized approach to textbooks.
“The provost’s office recognizes the problem and continues to work on it,” Monts said. “We know the cost of education continues to rise, and if we can lessen other costs, then we will.”
Individual professors or departments, not the University administration, decided where to order textbooks from.
But many students argued that the University could easily lessen the burden of high textbook prices by simply requiring instructors to place their book lists online before classes start.
But Colette Alexander, a book purchaser at Shaman Drum, advised against that.
“The problem is that sometimes professors request books that are out of print or unavailable,” Alexander said. “If book lists are released early, students will spend money on books that ultimately won’t be used.”
LSA sophomore Ricky Chis disagrees. He decided to buy his books online this year after becoming frustrated with textbook prices at local campus bookstores.
“I used to shop locally, but the books are so overpriced,” he said. “I used Half.com this time and saved about $300.”
Some departments, like math and economics, already post book lists online before classes start, but the practice is not uniform across the campus.
Pohrt, who has owned Shaman Drum for 27 years, had another suggestion. He advised MSA to elect a liaison between the student population and the local bookstores.
“If a few students can learn how these businesses work and then report back to the student population, we have a better chance at finding a solution,” he said.
Another solution proposed at the forum was for professors to upload more of required readings to sites like ctools.umich.edu, so students would not need to buy textbooks at all. But a few professors at the forum said students seem to buy hard copies even when a free digital version is available.
“Even when I had a textbook available online, 130 out of 140 students bought their own copy,” said Jack Bernard, an adjunct professor of law and one of last night’s panelists.
Last December, Monts started a task force to bring faculty and students together to address campus issues.
The textbook forum was the first in a series of student issues forums that MSA is planning for the upcoming semester.
Brenda Gunderson, who chairs the taskforce, said that textbook costs are her first priority, and she is optimistic that the group will be able to recommend a solution by March.