February 18, 2011

Table of discontents

Departments should ensure that reading lists are posted with time schedules

On Monday, the cycle began again: Spring time schedules went live, and all productivity halted as students pored over next quarter’s offerings. The listings were accompanied by a frustrating but familiar lack of information on what books these courses require, even though the schedules link to the Seminary Co-op and Barnes & Noble websites, and uploading reading lists is quick and simple. That professors neglect to provide these listings is unacceptable because, besides being inconvenient, it’s also against the law.

In August 2008, Congress passed the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA). Among the many stipulations of this legislation was a provision concerning textbooks: The bill mandated that all professors and departments should “disclose… retail price information of required and recommended college textbooks and supplemental materials for each course listed in the institution’s course schedule used for preregistration and registration purposes.”

The rule is clear: Professors need to have book listings posted by the time the course request process starts. But if one peruses the time schedules of the Department of English, they will notice that less than a third of undergraduate courses have book listings and prices. The Department of Philosophy seems to have forgotten entirely that books are used in courses. There is likewise a minimal amount of information in the sociology and history schedules.

There is no excuse for such blatant disregard of federal policy. Adherence to the law is easy for professors: In fact, all they have to do to post listings is enter the books’ titles on the Seminary Co-op’s website. More importantly, it’s incredibly helpful for students. We don’t have syllabi available, so the course description, evaluations, and reading list are our best indicators of what the class will entail.

The motivation for this law is more than just convenience; a student’s ability to take a class is often predicated on textbook costs and information. Having names and prices at the earlier, mandated time allows us to search for used books, scope out bargains, and bundle deals. And in rare cases, the books required for a class may be so prohibitively expensive that some students would rather not take it. When that’s the case, the students deserve to know as soon as possible.

In 2008, we looked forward to a time when all time schedules would be supplemented by book listings and available prices. A law instituted to manage the costs incurred by students seemed like a perfect way to streamline an already frustrating course selection process.

Faculty follow-through on this policy, however, has been consistently disappointing. Professors and departments should take an hour out of their day to post their required books on their course listing, and they should do so before the course request process begins. Give us the information we need to make educated decisions, and perhaps we can turn the page on years of unnecessary course request frustration.

The Editorial Board consists of the Editor-in-Chief and the Viewpoints Editors.