Textbook Freedom

This is a fairly minor thing in the grand scheme of things but I need to mention it anyway because it illustrates how our freedoms are taken away from us all at once.

Our students don’t buy textbooks because those are very expensive and students can’t afford them. Instead, the university buys textbooks (or simply books) and lets students use them. At the end of the semester, students return the books.

We never had a problem getting our Textbook Service to provide the books we need because it’s all about academic freedom. Nobody should impinge on what a professor teaches, how, and with which texts. And nobody did. I’ve been teaching as a professor for 13 years, and nobody ever evinced the slightest interest (let alone desire) to glance at my syllabi or book choices. And this is exactly how it should be.

In the Fall of 2020, however, things changed. I was not allowed to order a novel for the Spring 2021 because it was published outside the US. I teach Hispanic literature, which means that pretty much everything I need is published outside the US. But these days, unless you enrich a gigantic US corporation, you can’t order the book you need.

Then it got worse. Without telling anybody, Textbook Services signed a contract with Cengage to the effect that nobody would order any textbooks with an online component from anybody but Cengage. Why we decided to give a massive gift like that to one company but not another hasn’t been explained.

Of course, I’d ditch the stupid online component altogether but language teachers don’t like to work much, so they are obsessed with these online workbooks and pre-canned, automatically generated and graded tests.

In any case, this is the result. One of the biggest components of academic freedom is gone. The causes are

1. austerity

2. people’s ineradicable laziness.

Yes, austerity sucks. I’m completely opposed. But this wouldn’t happen if so many people hadn’t outsourced their work to “online teaching solutions.”

8 thoughts on “Textbook Freedom

  1. “students don’t buy textbooks because those are very expensive”

    How much are textbooks now anyway? What if a student wants to buy a textbook? I remember textbooks were pricey but there was also a thriving market in used textbooks which were cheaper… publishers hate, hate HATE second hand sales so maybe they jacked up the price to eliminate the used textbook market?

    “language teachers don’t like to work much”

    c’est vrai…. to be fair a lot of the first two years or so is kind of drudge work that can be kind of automated… but in the present socio-economic environment that’s just an invitation for grifters to try eliminate the human element (still very necessary) altogether…

    In similar, horrible news, I recently found out the international project I got roped into participating in (for the good of the unit I’m in) is about multi-lingual online language teaching and evaluation…. I think I might need to go gargle some Clorox or something….


    1. I’d be all for students getting second-hand textbooks. But it’s all about the stupid online component. You still have to pay for the online component every year. It got so, the university shells out $800,000 every year for the online component.

      I’m probably the only idiot who designs every course based on original activities and my own tests I write specifically for each group. I don’t even know how this “online component” works because I never logged in.

      This isn’t just the administration that’s to blame. It’s a problem that is fed from both directions. Professors want to outsource to the point where it becomes unsustainable because everybody wants to outsource to their own preferred publisher.

      As a result, they all keep bickering while I can’t get a great novel by s great author into my students’ hands.

      I’m sorry about your project. It sounds soul-crushing. But you never know, maybe there’s a bigger reason why it needs you to not suck completely.


  2. Your Senate, AAUP chapter or state conference, etc., should get on this Cengage issue right away. IL AAUP would write a strong letter to your administration, I am sure, and it should be discussed. I am assuming only Cengage books may be used university wide, and that you don’t just mean that the department chose a common textbook for multi-section freshman courses. Re the foreign books, I know, it is an utter pain. It used to be that if you indicated a US distributor, they’d do it, and then Schoenhof’s had their course books on the web program. We do of course have Amazon but scholarship students are required to buy at the bookstore, so isn’t this refusal to have books some kind of discrimination?


    1. Our department chose a completely different textbook. And now we are being extorted into switching to Cengage university-wide. My suggestion is to drop this digital component completely but nobody agrees.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Is it, though, that the textbooks can be e-books and so the university has made a deal with a company, to become a Cengage university . . . so the students never have to buy books, they come uploaded to the LMS? So faculty just walk through classes, remotely mostly, and some elite cadre comes in person?


  4. And I will reiterate, the faculty should rise up against Cengage. Refuse to use it, and also protest the exclusive contract. I really hope your Senate, etc., will do something.


  5. It’s a combination of hustlers, bean counters, “one size fits all” conformity, and “taking the path of least resistance”—wanting to do things the easiest and quickest way possible.
    Overall quality, substance, and sometimes even efficiency, is what takes the hit.


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