An open-textbook policy is a must The Sheaf October 20, 2013 12:00 am Opinions MAX FINEDAY After tuition, food, and rent, textbooks are the next biggest expense for students. Every year students shell out roughly $1,200 for textbooks, but what do we get out of it? I’ve been listening to students since launching my campaign for President of the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union in March 2013, and what I’ve heard is that they feel like they are being ripped off after buying their textbooks — and rightly so. The system we have now doesn’t work. Students generally aren’t rolling in the dough when they come to university and, to be frank, don’t have money to waste. But so often this is what happens: we buy a $400 textbook and read one chapter for the class for which the textbook was supposedly needed. Students are fed up. That’s why this year the USSU is focusing on real solutions for reducing the cost of textbooks that work for students, faculty and government. We need to take the business of knowledge distribution into the 21st century and that’s why I’m proposing an open-textbook program be brought to the U of S. Open-textbook programs allow textbooks to be put online for students and professors to access for free. That’s right — free! These textbooks are published under creative commons licenses, which means that professors can add content that is more relevant to their classes, or take things out that don’t make sense for the classes they’re teaching without breaking traditional copyright laws. No more Ontario-centric examples for our Saskatchewan classrooms. A calculus text that is regularly $200 could be under $30 — if not free — for a printed copy under an open-textbook program. This will collectively save students hundreds of thousands of dollars and allow for more local content to be taught in U of S classes. This is a win-win for everybody. If you think this is too idealistic or will never happen, think again. Many jurisdictions in the U.S. already have open-textbook programs, including California, Washington and Utah. Closer to home, the British Columbia Ministry of Advanced Education announced that it would make free online textbooks available for the 40 most popular courses in the province — a first in Canada. The U of S has a unique moment here to show goodwill towards students who are becoming increasingly skeptical of administration and government alike in this climate of austerity. TransformUS is coming and it likely won’t be something many are going to appreciate. Students need to see in the coming months, while programs are being evaluated and positions terminated, that the university and provincial government are committed to looking for ways to not only save the university money but also save students money. Our university and Saskatchewan as a province can be leaders in accessible education. But to convince them, they need to hear from students. From Oct. 21–25 the USSU will be hosting #DontGougeUs — a week long event to show the government and administration that the current textbook system isn’t working and that there are alternatives out there. Open-textbooks are a worthwhile endeavor. But for administration or government to listen, the USSU needs student support. We’re going to have a petition asking the provincial government to work with the university to implement an open-textbook program. As such, the USSU will be asking you what you’d do with the money you usually spend on textbooks if we had the program here and encouraging you to tweet #DontGougeUs, call and email professors, deans, the provincial government and the president of the U of S. B.C. has done all the heavy lifting — there are open-textbooks in fine arts, natural sciences, humanities and social sciences that could be implemented next semester if professors chose to incorporate them into their classes. And with the help of government and administration we can develop textbooks for agriculture, engineering, education and any other college or major. Students are not being unreasonable here. We can do better for students and I’m certainly committed to this policy. It’s sensible and would have a very real impact in the lives of students from all demographics. Having the university and province take students seriously is the ultimate challenge we face. We can all agree with the U of S’s Third Integrated Plan when it says “we envision our university to be one of Canada’s most distinguished,” but we need to take the right steps forward. I think we can be one of Canada’s most distinguished universities and implementing an open-textbook program is the first step in getting there. – Graphic: Mike Tremblay lulu i spent 175 bucks and never opened the text once, next semester the course was the same text just the second half added to the text 175 bucks again, and they never said it was the same thing just with added chapters. now i own one half text one full text of the same item that i never used Guest Who’s fault is it that you ‘never opened the text once’? Your laziness and lack of academic conscientiousness isn’t the fault of the professor or the textbook producer. Perhaps you would have gotten $175 of utility and a better mark had you bothered to use the textbook. No sympathy from me in this instance. guest You are completely out of line to say that he is lazy and lacks academic conscientiousness. I learned in my first year that hardly ever is it necessary to actually use a textbook for a class. With how much free information is available on the internet, using text books often isn’t even necessary nor is it practical given how much easier it is to use a simple search engine rather than an index of a book. Lots of professors don’t even bother to teach from text books that are recommended for their classes. lulu the class was on a power point and he said the questions would come from the power point i wasn’t lazy passed the class with flying colors i studied what i was told the text was just extra reading. you should stop being such a judgmental person and learn to be a better person in general, but you cant find that in a text book. CG When and where can we sign this petition? Thanks! Max FineDay Hey there, someone from the USSU will be around campus all week so you can sign the petition whenever you have time! We’ll be in the tunnel on Monday and Tuesday from 10am-1pm Wednesday in Upper Place Riel Thursday in the Health Sciences Building Friday in the Arts Building (right by the ramp). Thanks for the interest, and tell all your friends! Guest Although I completely agree that students are being gouged, I would like some better explanation of how we are going to continually be provided by publishers with textbooks that will then be put online for free access? Why would anyone take the time to write and publish material if there is no incentive for them other then helping out starving students who chose to make this investment in themselves? Will the cost be subsidized by government or through increased tuition and student fees? Engles’ Angels Perhaps we could make writing a textbook be part of getting a post-graduate education? Perhaps we could look at what is being done at the moment in the moderately long list of establishments the article gives us of places with open text books schemes? Maybe it could be paid for by a board of education; I personally have no issue with being taxed. It is part of being in a nation state, and maybe if the taxes were higher there’d be less potholes. Also, people do things for other reasons than money; though the capitalist ideology likes to gloss over that point. Guest The writing a textbook as part of post-graduate education seems like a legitimate option to me. I agree that we should look at how the other establishments run their open text-book schemes, and that was the point of my original post. I would like to have more information on how it works rather than saying why it is a fair policy. My whole concern is when I hear the word “Free” being thrown around. As we all know nothing is free. The taxation point is a discussion on its own. Personally, I believe that even though university is an investment for society, it is more so an investment in the end user who chose to make that investment and therefore shouldn’t be the financial burden of the rest of society. Guest “I personally have no issue with being taxed. It is part of being in a nation state, and maybe if the taxes were higher there’d be less potholes.” I see someone’s taken a first-year political studies class. You’re presumably a student, which makes it safe to say you currently pay *no* income taxes – when you’re in a higher tax bracket, will you still feel this way? Probably not. If you stick around to take a second year of political studies, you’ll learn that our current provincial government is unlikely to ever support this initiative. Raising taxes to subsidize the cost of textbooks for undergraduate university students would be political suicide – if income taxes were raised, the money would go to something that benefits a wider percentage of the population….like fixing potholes. As to the idea of making writing a textbook be part of getting a post-graduate education, go ask a grad student and wait for them to finish laughing at your question to get an answer. The last thing an overworked grad student needs or wants is to write a textbook for free – I’d rather a journal publication. DueceBiggalo Income taxes are only a part of the tax picture. Students do not pay *no* income tax, as you suggest. First off, if we work (which many do) we do pay income taxes. Furthermore, we pay a much higher percent of our income in sales taxes, which are not a progressive, but instead a regressive tax scheme that burdens those with a smaller income more heavily than the rich. Furthermore, we (mostly) pay rent, although some do not, and some may actually own their own residence. Therefore we also pay property taxes in the form of rent payments, which any landlord will tell you, include the cost of property taxes(although these go to the city and not the province, it does mean the province may not have to transfer as much to the city in the future). Don’t get me started on liquor and other “sin” taxes. So take this whole, “students don’t pay taxes so they get no input on how public funds are spent” argument and shove it up your arse. lulu your lack of understanding taxes is amazing…. DingoGotMyBaby Elaborate, lulu. lulu that was not supposed to reply to you its was supposed to be to the person who said that we pay no taxes.i was essentially agreeing with you. Yes, yes You must not be a student, because textbooks are already highly subsidised for any student who works. (And of course, student loans, grants etc. if you dont) For instance, working part time, both my provincial and federal tax deduction form give me about 1/3 off each from my textbook total cost. sheenaj I agree with the previous comment. I would like to know as a taxpayer if the textbook costs will be gleaned from my future earnings until the end of time, as well as friends and family of mine who did not choose to go to university, or whether this truly would end up being a free service Anarchy in CA If taxes were higher there could be less potholes, and more buses. Also, the rich totally aren’t paying their share of tax anyhow, so all we need do it get the money from them a little more. Alternatively if you’re so opposed to taxes you should abstain from the modern state. (I agree that the state is at fault for not allowing that option.) JP Gotta love university students high sense of entitlement Guest Jesus, do you have any idea how politically unfeasible these ideas are? Even if you taxed the rich at a higher rate, it wouldn’t result in “free textbooks” for undergraduate students at the U of S. Why? Because U of S undergrads are a tiny percentage of the population as far as offering benefits go, and they aren’t a likely demographic to go vote for the Saskatchewan Party in an election. Aggregate benefit matters – that’s why if we raised taxes, you might see less pot holes: higher road quality benefits nearly everyone. Would there be more buses? Once again, probably not, for a few reasons. Bus service in Saskatoon is limited by usage: Saskatonians tend to not like riding the bus, and if we offer more bus times and ridership doesn’t increase, we just lose money because it isn’t cost-effective ridership. Furthermore, raising provincial income tax would be unlikely to result in ‘more buses’ because public transit is under municipal jurisdiction. If the province passed down money to the municipal gov’t, it’d likely go to more pressing infrastructure needs. Sask Langer Oh boo hoo, poor me, I’m a taxpayer. I pay SO MUCH in taxes and I’m personally paying for everything under the sun and it’s all because of me so I should get to personally pick and choose what my precious tax dollars fund because nobody else pays taxes but me. Give it a break. Everyone pays taxes and everyone pays taxes for things they don’t personally agree with. I don’t agree that my taxes go to fixing up a stupid arena in backwater Sask so people can worship some kids whose main talent is playing hockey not quite well enough to get drafted into a better league. But that’s how taxes work: we all pay them, and then the people who got more votes than the other guys get to decide how they’re spent. And invariably, those people will pick something that people disagree with. But the “poor taxpayer” argument is as tired, old, and worn out as the “think of the children” argument. Congratulations. You managed to perform one of the fundamental defining factors of society by paying taxes. Aren’t you special. lulu There are many things included in taxes that i will never use or take part in, that’s the part of taxes its for the general good of the community. Storm Lee Sanders As an instructor I am always looking for ways and pedagogies to better meet my students’ needs. Textbooks are relics of an institutional past that does not include students who cannot afford to buy them. So right on Max! I would support this idea and any and all other ideas that eliminate barriers to education! And to the Guest who suggests that “You’re presumably a student, which makes it safe to say you currently pay *no* income taxes” and “The last thing an overworked grad student needs or wants is to write a textbook for free – I’d rather a journal publication.” Two things: 1) I use my income to fund my PhD (ABD) degree and I pay a shitload of taxes; and 2) I would rather co-author a free and widely-accessible text than a journal article that no one will ever read any day! #NeverSayNever Nelly216 And how about those students that can’t afford a computer of sorts to be able to have access to these free textbooks that would most likely be online. Or those of us with issues that arise from staring at a computer all day trying to read textbooks? I personally find it bad enough with my classes right now to sit in lectures with nothing but a click click click sound from someone taking notes on a laptop that it is so distracting I can barely hear the lecture, let alone have to hear even more in the classroom. yes textbooks are expensive, and I am ok with that. I would rather see the Government work on lowering tuition then textbook fees. But I would also like to see the instructors utilizing the texts more as well, like Lewis Styles in Classical Mythology. in order to pass that class you have to read the text, he is also an instructor that doesn’t use technology what so ever. I would greatly like to see instructors going back to grassroots of textbooks, pen, and paper for note taking. Storm Lee Sanders Point taken. h I totally agree. Tuition is a lot more insanely priced than textbooks, or at least it burns a bigger hole in my non-existent pocket, so I would prefer tuition costs are lowered. Or really, just lower anything and make things cheaper! I really appreciate teachers who use their texts and don’t run their lectures entirely on electronic means. It’s becoming a real headache, literally. I can’t bear being around so much technology and lack of more traditional means, which actually help me learn better. Alex Within the group of people I know in the department of Computer Science at least, the individuals with higher grades are the ones who actually read their textbooks; not just the first chapter. Yes they could be cheaper, but students also need to learn to only buy what they intend to use. HELP YOURSELF AND READ THIS I signed the petition and im happy there is at least discussion about this but I think the Sheaf would be better off publishing basic tips on how to save on texts because apparently many students are clueless. talk to your profs, check if the library has copies, WAIT UNTIL YOU GET THE SYLLABUS and hold off on buying until you Know you’ll need it. Please check the library! Check Kijiji! Check Bijiji! Talk to your friends to see you can make a trade if they’ve taken the class before! go to Books Unlimited! Save your money people.. don’t buy ahead. If you get a syllabus and you see there are readings due for each day of class and after the first class the prof actually talks about them, you’ll need it. If you can find an older edition talk to your prof, or see how it compares to the revised one, sometimes they just add new chapter titles and cover pages, I swear! Sell your books when your done, and don’t do it through the buy back system, sell them on Kijiji. You will get more than a few dollars back. INFORM YOURSELVES and take my advice!!!!!! Mhykhaelaah Glambert I paid about $400 in textbooks but i ask my prof what texts theyll refer to most and ill buy tgem. For example in wnglish we had a textbook we used for poetry and short stories but we didnt have to get the doctionary that was a part of the textbook list. Im a first year ynsergradyate who lives in the coty ao i woukdnt know what other students are going through but thats the approach i would take. If the paper of thr books are recycled then it will save some trees and some enviribmental costs of studebts. Having it online is a problen fir those who have trouble accessing the internet let alone the textbook. Alot of things are online now and i find it a hassle. Theres no way to higkight notes in the books wen its online. Students can sell then after abd get them cheaper. Students dont know the work put into the books to have it at tgat cost. Im against this free online idea brcause it wouls be a probkem. Its good that its free and less weight ti carry around but what about accessibility? Wheb u need in and dont have a computer ur acrewed. Just an option The online open textbook policy would be open enough for everyone to use, but that doesn’t mean you would have to use it. The hard copy books would still be available to purchase if you prefer that method. The only real argument about this topic is where the money would come from and if those people (government:. taxpayers) would want to pay for a system that would only affect/benefit so many people out of the whole population.