Month: February 2015

The Textbook Kerfuffle, Part II

Yesterday, Schewe Library was the site of a student protest.  Approximately 150 students flooded the Library — many carrying signs and placards — to protest the addition of a “textbook fee” onto their tuition.  The forthcoming textbook fee will provide each student with the textbooks and course materials necessary for their studies, but at a cost of approximately $300 per student, per semester.  The proposed program was unpopular with students, and they chose one of IC’s tri-annual Board of Trustees meetings to voice their opposition.

Protest 1







Historically, student activism at IC has been modest.  In asking around campus, there appear to only have been a handful of student protests in the last 50 or so years.  Though documentary evidence is scant, the following incidents have been corroborated by multiple sources:

  • In the 1960s, students protested over the lack of cigarette machines in their dormitories.
  • In the 1970s, students protested over the fact that they were mandated to attend Chapel on a weekly basis.
  • In the 1980s, students protested over restrictions on campus liquor consumption.
  • In the 1990s, students protested over the forced closure of the Gamma Nu literary society.
  • And, in the 2010s, students are now protesting over compulsory textbook rentals/purchasing.

Protest 2






Whether this protest will effect changes in IC’s would-be textbook program is unclear.  To the best of my knowledge, the program has not yet been approved by the Board of Trustees, and, I suppose, were the Board to sympathize with students’ concerns, they might elect to forestall or revise the plan.  But my suspicion is that, at this juncture, the plan is a fait accompli, and the students will come up empty-handed on this particular gambit.  On a more harmonious note, however, I suspect Administration will be more willing to consult with students on “big” issues in the future, if for no other reason than to avoid the type of embarrassment they’ve suffered in the past few days over this issue.  Here’s to a closer, more productive culture of cooperation at IC!

Protest 3


The Textbook Kerfuffle

This week, Illinois College administration outlined a plan to radically change the way students purchase their textbooks and course materials.  Up until this announcement, things were done pretty traditionally at IC: professors prepared a list of the books their classes would be using for the coming year; the campus bookstore purchased said books; and students went to the bookstore and bought (some of) their books.  On the fringes of this equation were third-party retailers (, eBay, etc.), and Schewe Library, who often purchased a select number of textbooks to supplement their course reserve materials.  In theory, this arrangement worked, save for one caveat: the students weren’t getting their books!  Many wouldn’t purchase a portion of their books, a few wouldn’t purchase any, and with the Library having only incomplete textbook coverage (with short loan periods), the Library could only provide so much support to those who hadn’t made a purchase.

Textbooks 3





This scenario was not unique to IC, however.  Students all over the nation are purchasing textbooks at a sharply declining rate.  The reasons for this are multivariate, but uncontrolled price inflation, piracy, availability of alternatives, and good old fashioned sharing seem to be the primary drivers.  Fed up with students arriving unprepared to class, and perhaps more cynically, seeking to bolster its student retention rates by obliging unfettered access to course materials, IC has contracted the campus’ textbook-and-course-materials contract to a course materials management firm, Rafter.  For a set price, Rafter provides all students rented access to their course texts and readings, either in physical or electronic form.  Should the student wish to subsequently keep the text, they may do so at additional cost.  As best I am aware, there is no opt-out for the program.

Textbooks 2






Predictably, students were outraged by the program.  Putting aside the “mommy knows best” dimensions of the initiative, the most common student refrains addressed the allegedly-high-costs of the program, the lack of an opt-out, and the fact that the program did not cost-differentiate between classes of student (i.e. fourth-year versus first-year, science versus humanities, etc.).  Valid concerns, all, but also voiced too late in the process to impact the (at least initial) implementation of the program.

From a professorial and/or administrative view, this program is a win.  It relieves students of their purchasing responsibility, and also disincentivizes the students from engaging in illegal and/or time-consuming behaviour to game the system for a few bucks.  Under this arrangement, the Library also benefits as well, as we’re no longer expected to outlay scarce resources on textbooks which will not meaningfully bolster our collections.  The students, however, are resentful of the program’s mandated costs, and also feel patronized by the implication that they can’t manage their own education.  Where this goes from here is anyone’s guess, but I think we can all agree we’re entering a new era at IC.  Comments?