February 4, 2009

 

To:      Ruthann Benson, CLS Dean

            Kathleen Enz-Fingen, Provost

 

From:  Chuck Lee, History Department Chair

 

Re:      Campus Bookstore and Textbook Rental System

 

 

Recent decisions made by and policy pronouncements from the Textbook Rental Service, as well as the future out-sourcing of both the bookstore and the rental service have contributed to several problems in our departments as the new semester has begun.  We have courses without books, instructors who have had to make last minute changes in reading lists, courses we have decided not to offer, and instructors resorting to pulling materials off the internet (raising clear copyright concerns).  We trust that most of these issues will be short-term, and that an addition to the student fee for textbooks for fall will help.  We are, however, concerned about a much larger issue that has become apparent to our faculty.  Some of these short-term decisions have the potential of becoming permanent.  But even in the short term, and with the out-sourcing of the bookstore and rental service, we are concerned about the issue of academic freedom. 

 

Academic or intellectual freedom has, of course, a long, if somewhat troubled, history in higher education.  Aspects of our institutional structure reflect ongoing concerns that this freedom should be protected.  Generally speaking, faculty ownership of curriculum reflects this concern.  In the UW System, faculty governance and the disciplinary departments share responsibility for intellectual integrity and other matters.  At the individual faculty level, we exercise academic freedom by conducting peer reviewed research or by creating works of art and literature within our disciplines and teach, bringing that expertise to the classroom. 

 

When we establish rules that get in the way of an instructor bringing his or her highest knowledge and understanding to the classroom then we are doing our students a great disservice and we are violating academic freedom.  We have courses that have multiple sections, each taught by different instructors; we have courses that are rotated among faculty.  These instructors must be allowed to order materials through the rental service that reflect their strengths in their specialties.  We are now being told that some instructors must use books in the inventory, ordered by someone else at some other time.  We have been given a sliding monetary scale for student book purchases: books under $20, under $30, or under $45.  In disciplines like ours, where the primary means of delivering content is through texts, we will bear an unequal burden and, given our local culture, we will not only find that students migrate away from our classes, but that  instructors will be forced to compromise good teaching and scholarship to attract and hold students.

We have made some compromises, of course, for years, with the existing system.  Our current situation, however, has heightened our concerns.  Instructors are being told to use an earlier edition of a text, rather than a current edition.  We have an example of an instructor being told to use volume two of an anthology because there are not enough copies of volume one.   Instructors find texts ordered and approved for the rental service now located in the bookstore for student purchase.  Too often these things happen without notifying the instructor.

 

So, as the bookstore, rental service and university try to move through this crisis to next fall, with increased funds available for both and possibly with a private firm running both, we think it is in the best interests of all that decision-making be clear and transparent.  To date, what we have is one email replacing another.  We also believe that this calls for structured faculty oversight through the Faculty Senate.  We do not oppose change, so long as it is fair, open, and true to our basic values.

 

 

Cc:  Joe Heim