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Ending the trials of textbook tyranny

Illustration by Jennifer Kearney
By Katie Paulson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 12, 2005
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Undoubtedly, the credit card bills, bursar statements or the hole in your wallet seems larger than usual this month. In the process of reflecting, you make that connection to why finances seem grimmer: textbooks. Whether you bought books before classes started or just last week, the enormity of textbook prices riles up most students' anger and discontent.

Unfortunately, this problem affects students across the nation. In fact, prices have risen 186 percent in two decades, according to the Government Accountability Office's report. According to the New York Times,the average student spends about $900 each year on textbooks alone (forget about tuition and other levied fees).

Before, students didn't have options when it came to textbook costs. It was one major aspect in the educational process where we lacked control or influence - until now.

The Arizona Students Association has embraced the cause to make textbooks affordable for students in a yearlong campaign starting Wednesday. With their aims of targeting the local, legislative and corporate levels, they hope to severely lessen the semester burden of buying books.

Andrew Record, ASA lobbyist and leader of the textbook campaign, says, "By creating stricter time submission guidelines for when professors need to request books, this allows the UA Bookstore to better gauge buyback prices and offer more money to students than in previous years."

Another one of their main objectives locally involves addressing the issue of bundling. According to Record, some professors don't realize that the actual textbook can be purchased separately from the specialized bundled packs that the corporate presses push.

How many students have workbooks, CDs and other texts that, once ripped from the shrink-wrapped packaging, are as good as worthless? The UofA Bookstore won't take them back; the professor doesn't use them. Yet, these are the same products pushing up the prices of course materials.

Katie Paulson

Are you on your feet applauding yet? If this project succeeds, it will have positive reverberations for all students.

But, this isn't an issue that can be solved quietly in the darkest corners of Senatorial legislation and bureaucratic red tape. Students must voice their opinions on the borderline out-of-control situation with textbook prices.

After achieving local goals, ASA wants to stretch its proverbial wings to official government bodies both on campus and beyond, as well as the corporations themselves, who present an indifferent attitude towards understanding students' needs.

"We have to rise up together in order to combat the rising cost of education," Record stated.

While this isn't an election year, students have the opportunity to form a grassroots movement for a different agenda, to fight for their right to affordable textbooks. ASA plans to host petition drives, bulk postcard mailings to textbook publishers and an aggressive media campaign to push the issue to the forefront.

For once, students cannot participate on the sidelines and hope to free ride on the outcome. Without unwavering support, textbook prices will likely continue to increase, and the complaining by students will follow a similar trend.

Some students claim that their solutions to this problem work perfectly, such as purchasing books through online intermediaries for discounted prices (Half-Price books, Semester's End) or copying pages from editions found in the library.

Yet, these "solutions" aren't truly solving the problem; these alternatives still leave students with non-returnable books and incorrect editions. Furthermore, as Thursday's Wildcat reported, the bookstore assists numerous programs on campus. If more students continue to shop elsewhere for texts, the bookstore cannot provide as much aid as before, which will inevitably hurt students.

In this episodic catch-22 experience, students must ask themselves how their input can impact a constituency of over 35,000 individuals here in Tucson. Yet this initiative encompasses more than 50 national campuses. Hundreds of thousands of undergraduate and graduate students will benefit if continuous support exists.

How can you help? Join the campaign. Be vocal. Get angry. Each semester students spend vast quantities of money on books that end up lacking any monetary value. This needs to be stopped. Textbook publishers such as the notorious price-inflator Thomson Learning must take into account the needs of people over profit (according to, 700 physics and math professors from over 100 universities called on Thomson Learning to stop unnecessary textbook revisions).

Yet, this marks merely the starting point. Students, rally and fight for us, or once next semester rolls around, the complaining will triumph again.

Katie Paulson is a junior majoring in English and political science. She can be reached at

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