June 29, 2010
Pennsylvania Senate unanimously passed the College Textbook Affordability, Accountability and Accessibility Act, which will require Pennsylvania colleges to abide by policies and guidelines intended to minimize the cost of textbooks.
According to a news release from the author of the bill, State Senator Andy Dinniman, the bill will require textbook publishers to provide wholesale and suggested retail prices, copyright dates for the past three editions of textbooks, identify substantial changes between previous and updated editions, and list any alternative formats of the material and the prices of such formats. It will also require publishers doing business with Pennsylvania colleges to offer their textbooks in digital form by January 1, 2020. Lastly, the bill requires faculty members to select the least expensive, educationally sound textbooks.
Inside Higher Ed reports that although faculty members approve of Dinniman's provisions, they do not agree with the restrictions on book selections. Many professors already try to avoid expensive textbooks and argue that if they do choose something slightly more expensive, they do so because that particular textbook is better than other "educationally sound" options. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) believes the requirement will "have a chilling effect on faculty members' ability to exercise their academic freedom in planning courses of the highest quality." They also state that only faculty members have the "professional competence" to make tradeoffs between textbook quality and price.
In his news release, Senator Dinniman argues that his intention was never to undermine the rights of faculty members. "All I want to do is make sure that when textbooks and course materials are selected, that student-cost is factored into the equation," he said.
Inside Higher Ed points out that even student advocates are not completely onboard with the legislation. Nicole Allen, textbooks advocate for the Student Public Interest Research Groups, said that professors need better tools to make less costly selections. In a 2007 survey of faculty members, Allen's organization found that 94 percent of professors would assign the less expensive textbook when presented with two equally good options. However, the survey also found that 37 percent of professors reported they do not know the prices of the books when making decisions, suggesting that faculty members need more options and better information. Allen says, "To undercut quality for the sake of costs doesn't make any sense." The AAUP echoes her sentiment, saying that rising textbook costs are a serious matter, but that the state should increase appropriations to universities rather than regulate book selection.
Compiled by Heidi M. Agustin
"Academic Freedom in Pennsylvania," aaup.org, June 25, 2010
"Senate Passes Dinniman Bill to Decrease College Book Prices," senatordinniman.com, June 23, 2010
"Step Too Far on Textbook Costs?" insidehighered.com, June 28, 2010, Scott Jaschik