Paul L. Caron

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Professors Rip Off Students When They Assign Expensive Books For Their Classes

Following up on my previous posts (links below):  New York Times op-ed:  How Professors Help Rip Off Students: Textbooks Are Too Expensive, by Tim Wu (Columbia):

As the semester ends, instructors at universities and community colleges around the country will begin placing their orders for next year’s textbooks. But not all professors will pay enough attention to something that students complain about: the outlandish prices of the books we assign. Having grown at many times the rate of inflation, the cost of a leading economics book can be over $250; a law school casebook plus supplement can cost $277. Adding to such prices is the dubious trend of requiring students to obtain digital access codes, averaging $100, to complete homework assignments.

Professors love tough questions. Here’s one we need ask ourselves: Are we helping rip off our students?

A good instructor wants to use the best materials, and some of the expensive textbooks are excellent and arguably worth the price. But some really aren’t, especially when there are cheaper or free alternatives of equal quality out there. Basic ethics suggest we have a duty to look for cheaper options before we inflict the $200 or $300 books or the $100 access codes on our students. Professors who write successful textbooks need to think harder about the professional ethics of allowing a book to be sold at exploitative prices to young people.

The root problem is that it is just too easy for us, the professors, to spend other people’s money. ...

I long felt guilty teaching first-year criminal law out of a mediocre book that was both detested by my students and priced at $235. I gave up and switched to a free book from Harvard’s H2O project. It required work to switch, but it saved my students money and felt like a sweet liberation from a nasty racket.

Legal Ed News, Legal Education | Permalink


Of course we are helping rip them off. Specifically, by agreeing with West and the others to churn out another edition of a casebook, study aid or whatever when nothing really has happened in that specific area of law, we are complicit.

Posted by: Jeffrey Harrison | Dec 17, 2019 11:30:33 AM