Textbook usage should be included in teacher evaluations

USF should add questions about textbooks to teacher evaluations at the end of the semester, as a committee is recommending.

The Textbook Affordability Committee (TAC), which tries to make textbooks more affordable for students, wants to evaluate how teachers are using the textbooks they assign.

Some teachers are requiring students to buy expensive textbooks that are seldom or never used, said Tapas Das, associate provost for Policy Analysis, Planning and Performance. Students are sometimes required to purchase several textbooks packaged together when they only use one for the class, Das said.

So, TAC wants to add two questions on whether professors discussed why the textbook was needed and how often it was used in class.

This is a much-needed solution, and the University should do everything it can to make books cheaper for students.

A few professors want to know what students think about textbook usage, but they are wary of adding the questions to teacher evaluations.

“(The evaluations) play heavily in tenure promotion,” said Rebecca Hagen, a mass communications professor. “It gets looked at very seriously.”

However, if teachers are assigning books that they don’t use, it should be taken seriously.

“If faculty members in some instances have been requiring students to get textbooks that were subsequently not used in the courses, that’s a great imposition on students and it means the faculty member hasn’t really done an appropriate job preparing for the course,” said Larry Branch, professor in the Florida Mental Health Institute, College of Public Health and College of Medicine.

Students are already accustomed to filling out the teacher evaluations every semester, and adding two questions would be easy. It is important to create a detailed picture of textbook usage at USF. The evaluation would make teachers think twice before requiring unnecessary books.

This should be just an initial step in making textbooks more affordable, though.

Overpriced books at the campus bookstore are a constant gripe among students and prompted Student Government senator Christopher Biemer to threaten to campaign against the bookstore if it didn’t lower prices.

Biemer called the University bookstore the “single most expensive place to purchase textbooks for use in USF courses.”

Requiring fewer textbooks would lower costs for students. Teachers can also pursue alternatives such as requiring books found on Orange Grove Texts Plus, an online repository of textbooks, which Das plans to give students access to through Blackboard.

Students would be able to access books online for free or order a hard copy for $30 to $50 – much less than the cost of a traditional textbook.

Students should not be sent into debt for buying textbooks. Adding the two proposed questions to teacher evaluations would be a step in the right direction.