By music professor Craig Wright’s estimate, the materials for his “Listening to Music” course cost $128 and, in his estimation, that’s too much. So, at the first session Thursday, he promised to pay each student who buys his textbook $10 out of pocket.
Helping students purchase course books at lower prices is also the goal of a federal law that took effect this summer, requiring universities to post more information about textbook costs before students register for courses. Accordingly, Yale has added a button in its online course system that links to the Yale Bookstore. While the feature is not comprehensive, the administration says the University is striving for full compliance. Some students, for their part, said they had not used or even noticed the change.
The new “Textbooks” button in the Online Course Information System, which directs users to a list of all textbooks at the Yale Bookstore (operated by Barnes & Noble), is one of several methods by which Yale is trying to comply with the Textbook Provision of the Higher Education Opportunity Act, which was passed by Congress in 2008 and took effect July 1. Some professors order course books from Labyrinth Books, but the University only offers a link to the home page of Labyrinth Books in the new OCI and OCS sidebars.
“Barnes & Noble is the Yale Bookstore, and Yale has a contractual relationship with it,” Registrar Jill Carlton said. “Many schools in the United States are linking to Barnes & Noble if that is their bookstore.”
According to a 2008 memo on the legislation by the National Association of College and University Attorneys, universities that do not comply cannot be sued under the law, but the secretary of education may take administrative action against or fine a school if it does not meet the requirements. The effects of the law will be examined in a report by the comptroller general by July 2013.
Yale College professors who include textbook titles and ISBN information on syllabi or in course descriptions instead of in OCI or OCS are still complying with the law, said Carlton and Associate General Counsel Caroline Hendel ’83. And compliance methods vary across Yale’s professional schools: The Divinity School has its own bookstore, Carlton said, so the store provides textbook information on its website. School of Music students searching for information on the sole course in the entire school that requires a textbook will find that data in the course’s online description.
Hendel said all methods used by Yale College and the graduate and professional schools are in compliance with the HEOA.
“There is such diversity at Yale that we hope people are complying,” Carlton said, adding that the University is not keeping track of how many professors log textbook information using the Barnes & Noble system or include it in their syllabi. The Textbook Provision states that universities must disclose textbook information “to the maximum extent practicable,” and may designate some textbook information as “To Be Determined” if the disclosure is not considered practicable.
Joseph King, the manager of the Yale Bookstore, said he does not think the Yale Bookstore keeps track of how many professors use the online system.
Though Carlton said she does not know if Yale would offer a similar application from Labyrinth Books in OCI and OCS if one existed, Labyrinth Books coursebook manager Don Hackett said Labyrinth has made textbook information available online “since we opened,” and that the information is uploaded to Labyrinth Books’ website just before the beginning of the fall term.
“That would be in compliance with the new law,” Hackett said of the coursebook information available on the store’s website, where instructors to link to it. “That’s something we’ve had in place, and it’s there for people to use.”
Hackett said he does not know if store owner Cliff Simms plans to develop an application similar to that of Barnes & Noble. Simms could not be reached for comment.
As of Thursday night, textbook buttons were missing from some OCI and OCS course descriptions, many of which are taught by professors who do not order books from Barnes & Noble. Some courses not using Barnes & Noble textbooks still featured a textbook button in OCI and OCS, but the button led users to an error message on Barnes & Noble’s website.
Ann Valentine, an associate professor of chemistry who is teaching “Comprehensive General Chemistry I” this semester, said her experience ordering textbooks from Barnes & Noble was no different this semester, and that her book list was not due any earlier than in previous years.
While Valentine said she does not expect the new law to change how students select their courses, she said the legislation — and the propagation of online booksellers — may change how students purchase textbooks.
“Twenty years ago, when I was an undergraduate, we had no choice but to go to the university bookstore when we arrived on campus and buy the book we were told to buy,” Valentine said. “Textbooks were relatively expensive then, too.”