Yes, there are going to be a lot of Simpsons references this week.

Moving on, it’s back to school time, which means campus brick-and-mortar bookstores all across the country are actually seeing some business. Forcing students to buy physical books is a good business to be in. The utility of running a textbook scam can be explained in one helpful chart:

You can blame your professors for this. Every student can get every case they need with a complimentary legal search password (thanks to our advertisers), yet professors still assign reading from casebooks. Even more incredibly, professors still write casebooks! And then those casebook publishers go out of their way to rip off students with multiple editions. There was even a cockamamie plan to prevent casebook resale that had to be beaten back by public outrage.

But, professors can also help students avoid unnecessary and costly book fees. Faculty members at one school fought back against their administration on behalf of their students…

Tax Prof Blog reports that the faculty at George Washington pushed back against the administration’s suggestion that they force all of their students into the campus bookstore for their biannual price gouging:

In a letter dated July 17, the university reminded faculty members of its “contractual obligation” with Follett, which runs the campus bookstore. Since the company has the “exclusive right” to provide textbooks and other course materials for all of the university’s courses, “alternative vendors may not be endorsed, licensed or otherwise approved or supported by the university or its faculty.”

The letter irked many faculty members — not only did it prevent them from helping students save some money on textbooks, but it also seemed to prohibit them from listing on their syllabuses open educational resources, online exercises and other content that could help students understand the material.

Professors pushed back against the school’s underhanded tactics, and GW eventually sent a letter “clarifying” the administration’s position:

On Aug. 11, the university sent a clarification, walking back the guidelines and reiterating its commitment to curbing the rising cost of textbooks. “Individual faculty have discretion as to what information they put on their syllabus, including any options available to students to obtain texts,” Nancy M. Haaga, managing director of campus support services wrote, apologizing for the confusion.

By “confusion,” I can only imagine university officials saying, “Sorry, we thought our faculty was on board with price gouging of students. Uhh… we’ll be more subtle next time?”

Professors can do more. Funneling students towards cheaper sources is great, but assigning cheaper sources is even better. And students really looking to cut costs should remember that the library is where books live, not the bookstore.

The campus bookstore is a great place to pick up gear for your school’s sports teams. But like every place that attracts tourists, locals should be wise enough to stay away.

UPDATE (12:30 p.m.): Harvard Law has this free textbook program, which other law schools could adopt if they were so inclined. The high price of course material is something law schools could fix if they wanted to, and even if they don’t, there are enough creative students and professors floating around to figure this out.

George Washington Tells Faculty Not to Inform Students of Cheaper Textbook Alternatives to Protect Campus Bookstore, Then Relents [Tax Prof Blog]


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