Reading between the lines of expensive textbooks

CAMPUS ISSUES: Professors have obligation to intentionally select books which students will be able to find at discounted and cheaper prices for their classes.

As students finalize their class schedules and purchase books, they often experience significant frustration and anger — emotions that are fairly targeted at the UC Berkeley Student Store. Thus far this semester, the student store has been chronically understocked for many classes, forcing students to miss early readings and start the semester already behind. Other students ordered their books through the store and, even now in the fourth week of instruction, have yet to receive them. But students’ struggles with getting the required texts go beyond the understocking and delays that the student store inflicts. The cost of textbooks is ludicrously high, and professors should take this into serious consideration when assigning them.

Admittedly, the student store just reopened this fall and might just need time to iron out the kinks of retail work. But the extent and scope of this problem is absurd, particularly considering that BBA Solutions, the vendor for the store, has been working with the UC Berkeley campus since 2014. An on-campus institution meant to make students’ lives easier should not be doing the exact opposite.

Like any other business, the student store is subject to the influence of supply and demand, but unlike most businesses, it is not the customers who determine those market forces. Professors order books through the store, generating a supply, and send students to purchase those books, creating a demand. Students have very little control over what they can purchase, and some professors and administrators seem wholly apathetic to the plight of textbook overpricing.

Lower-division math classes, such as the Math 1 series, are just one example of classes that require special UC Berkeley editions of otherwise commonplace books. These special editions tend to include the exact same content as other books but order content differently to more accurately reflect the lesson plans and schedules of the math department. Moreover, professors often favor new editions of books over old ones, even though the difference in content is minor compared to the price differences — resulting from the fact that students can find much cheaper second-hand old editions. Though requiring that all students have the same, most up-to-date book invariably saves time and is logistically easier for professors to assign work and readings, it also strips students of the ability to shop around and negotiate for the best price. The added financial burden does more to hinder learning than the extra time required to reconcile different page numbers would.

Not all professors do this, though. Many use books available to UC Berkeley students through the library and open-source textbooks. For the sake of affordability, professors must work to make this trend more commonplace.

The inaccessibility of textbooks has been especially problematic this semester because of the student store’s many flaws. But in terms of affordability, the onus is on professors, teachers and departments to have students’ budgets in mind when choosing which books to assign. That the public mission remain accessible requires that the materials used to further that mission are also accessible. We implore professors to be flexible about the editions and version of textbooks, to choose readings from the public domain, to upload content on bCourses and to create other alternatives to this bizarre system that so many subscribe to.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Senior Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.

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