Reading into royalties

At the beginning of every semester, hordes of students clutching long lists of books head to the Bookstore, prepared to shell out hundreds of dollars on textbooks.’ The recent increase in professors who require their students to purchase their own texts has students questioning whether it is ethical for professors to profit off the books they require their students to buy. Is this just another money-making scheme?’ Some students think so. ‘It is my strong belief that textbooks written by professors and their close colleagues are not necessarily the best tools for students,’ senior psychology and Italian studies major Rachel Noyes said. ‘There are many textbooks out there that are useful and have been created specifically to aid in students understanding of the material.’ Some students feel as though the teachers should not rely on their own textbooks as the sole learning device, since it is just more money in their pockets, and an additional expense for the students. ‘Teachers are already being paid, is it really necessary for them to make more?’ sophomore education major Haley Clayton said. UVM faculty members are expected to make contributions to research and creative scholarship in their respective fields, according to UVM’s new faculty orientation website. This expected contribution on the road to tenure can take the form of a textbook. Students say professors exert a solid effort to lower prices, but it does not always reach the best outcome for the student. ‘Overall, I think teachers try to be reasonable. But even if teachers did purchase books themselves, they can use them for an infinite number of semesters. I’ll use my copy for one semester,’ junior psychology Brittany Raymond said. ‘These textbooks are an unnecessary hole in my pocket.’ Professors argue that textbooks are an investment to one’s education, not an unnecessary purchase. ‘Books represent the educational process, not just an inanimate object we study,’ English professor Tom Simone said. ‘Books are not an economic object; they are an active part of one’s educational aspect and values.’ The United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) claims that textbook prices nearly tripled between December 1986 and December 2004. ‘My jaw drops when I hear the final costs of textbooks at the Bookstore,’ Raymond said. Students constantly complain about textbook prices and, when the end of the semester rolls around, there are long lines of students waiting to sell back their books. ‘When you sell back your textbooks, essentially you are selling back your education,’ Simone said. Not everything done in the classroom is through textbooks. All students have access to additional online supplements, E-reserve and materials a professor may post on Blackboard. ‘We are aware of the costs of textbooks and are very open to making supplements available to limit the number of textbooks,’ Simone said. So many books these days are translated or written at an expert level, it makes students unable to comprehend the material or lose interest, Simone said. ‘Professors who use their own textbooks for teaching a class make learning more desirable and effective,’ Simone said. ‘Dante is a very difficult work to really understand. With my book, I feel as though students really can understand what is going on.’ Texts like his that are custom tailored to his classes offer a better, more comprehensive learning experience, Simone said. ‘ ‘I enjoy taking classes with professors who write their own books,’ freshman Hannah Raftery said.’ ‘Not only are the books written best to coincide with the class, but the professors are equally, if not more, enthused than the students.’ Expenses for textbooks are growing regardless of where they are purchased or who is making the profits. ‘I barely see any of the money that is made on my books,’ Simone said. ‘On average I make about 50 cents per book that I sell.’ ‘I would rather make no money on the books, in order to help students save on education costs,’ he said. Some professors contribute to charitable organizations as an alternative to keeping the royalties they make on the books. ‘I write my textbooks for the students; it’s the only reason that motivates me to write the book,’ community development and applied economics professor Dr. Kathleen Liang said. The alternative textbook for Liang’s class is $170 compared to the $36 that the book she published costs. ‘ ‘It is crazy for me to imagine [asking students to pay that much],’ Liang said. ‘I also think it is a challenge to identify an appropriate textbook without going over your budget.’ Liang said that the publisher encouraged her to write a textbook.’ After reviewing how much she was spending in photocopies, she found that writing a book would cost less. ‘The motivation for me is to save you money in the long run,’ Liang said. ‘However, I don’t want to be paid for any profit [of the book].’ Publishers take the cost of the book – with a small percentage going to the UVM Bookstore – and the rest goes to the Entrepreneurship Education Fund, Liang said. Through donations, she hopes to inspire other faculty members to do the same. ‘I want to establish a good model for other faculty,’ she said. The Entrepreneurship Education fund consists of Dollar Enterprise student business profits, community donations, income from Liang’s textbook and personal contributions by Liang and colleagues. The fund uses money to help students who cannot pay for books or other school functions ‘My goal before I die here is to get over a million dollars [in the Entrepreneurship Education Fund],’ she said. Part of the check for the profits of Liang’s book this year will go toward helping orphanages in Haiti.’ She also wants to start a small backpack project, she said. Liang wants to go to community businesses and ask them to donate backpacks and school supplies for Haiti, she said. ‘The usage of the fund has no limitations,’ Liang said. Students feel this is a generous solution to professors requiring students to purchase the books they wrote. ‘I think more people should get involved in this here at UVM,’ Clayton said. ‘UVM needs more of this.’