Professors' demands push textbook prices up

In his Sept. 19 Opinion piece about the rising costs of college textbooks, "College textbook prices are unfair and unnecessary," David Zhou - like others who have written on the topic recently - is missing a large piece of the puzzle.

He is absolutely right that the price for textbooks is too high. But a major factor driving up their cost, which Mr. Zhou overlooked, is professors' demands for additional teaching resources.

More and more teachers today will not even consider a title if it does not have PowerPoint slides, tests, sample lectures, the ability to convert their lecture notes on previous editions (or competitive titles) to lecture notes for the newest edition, and the list goes on and on.

These resources are expensive to develop. What most students don't realize is that teachers receive these resources, which lessen their workload, completely free. The added costs of developing these resources are absorbed by the students in higher textbook prices.

The price of textbooks has certainly increased, and the frequency of new editions has increased to meet content demands and the emergence of the used-book market. But professors, even at Harvard, are part of the problem, and it's time students begin to recognize that.
Nathan Schultz
Business development manager, Monument Information Resource (a Bowker company)
New Providence, N.J.

Not only do publishers overcharge students for mandatory textbooks, but professors also require students to buy books the professors themselves have written, and those books are also very overpriced.

A former professor of mine required a book he wrote to be one of the three textbooks for his class on 20th-century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. The book is published by Blackwell and it cost us students $90. I found the same book months later (after I'd already purchased it new) for less than $10 at a used bookstore in my hometown of Cincinnati.

Overcharging students for texts is not only common, but expected. I experienced this price-gouging at every university I attended, no matter the size or stature of the school (Carson-Newman College, University of Notre Dame, Imperial College London, Harvard University, and Claremont School of Theology).

What gives?
Jason Combs

Social programs are part of US ethos

I am a theologically educated Christian and deeply appreciative of the role of charity (agape in Greek) in the Christian tradition. I disagree, however, with Michael Tanner that government programs are the antithesis of charity (Sept. 20 Opinion piece "Government failure, private success").

The Bible speaks of justice as loudly as it does of charity. Justice requires that we help the helpless in our communities. Justice demands that the poor little guy isn't treated differently from the rich bully.

As a US citizen, I believe these understandings of justice are woven into our Constitution and constitute some of the most fundamental principles upon which Americans stand proudly.

The government's exercise of the duty to include and protect all citizens is often incompetent, sometimes venal. But I believe in a common good which, I was taught, is an important part of the American vision. Both individual charity and collective justice are part of our tradition as a nation.
Cynthia McLean
Vancouver, British Columbia

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