Profs sign textbook cost statement

1,000 professors signed a statement from the “Make Textbooks Affordable” advocacy campaign.

by Devin Henry

One could set a clock by it – each new semester, students line up in Coffman Union, or on Oak Street or in Dinkytown to buy new textbooks.

Despite the best deals students claim to find, the groans, sighs and rhetorical questioning of high textbook costs remain.

“Make Textbooks Affordable,” a national textbook advocacy campaign from various student research groups, announced a statement Tuesday, signed by 1,000 professors from across the country declaring their desire for more affordable textbooks.

A 2005 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found the price of textbooks almost tripled between 1986 and 2004.

University mathematics professor Paul Garrett, who signed the statement, said it will show there is support to lower the cost of textbooks.

“The publicity along with it can affect what people think about the issue,” he said.

Some textbooks are packaged with glossy pages, pictures and can be hundreds of pages long, Garrett said – students could never finish a textbook that large in one semester.

“Bigger is not better,” he said. “(Students) can’t take it seriously.”

Garrett has been teaching for 26 years, and during that time there have been no real changes in the calculus curriculum because the study of calculus itself hasn’t changed in more than 200 years, he said.

Nora Paul, director of the University’s Institute of New Media Studies, recently moved the textbook she wrote for a journalism course online.

While cutting costs for students was a main goal, Paul said there are other benefits of putting textbooks online.

“The online lets us be more nimble in delivering new content than we could when we were trying to teach from a textbook,” she said.

Paul said the medium fits students better as well.

“It seems like students certainly live a lot of their lives online,” she said. “To incorporate the learning parts of their lives makes a lot of sense.”

Jee-Ae Kim, a health policy management doctoral student, said she spends nearly $300 a semester on textbooks but can’t read them cover-to-cover.

“I might not read the whole thing,” she said, “but I try to buy all of them.”

Kim said she doesn’t understand why students have to pay so much for textbooks when they have such a low budget.

The Minnesota Student Association has tried to address textbook prices.

MSA president Emma Olson said MSA is looking to promote new programs, such as student-to-student book exchanges through the bookstore Web site, to try to pass lower prices on to students.

“If you took advantage of the opportunities that are presented, there could definitely be a decreased cost in textbooks,” she said.