SG resolution hopes to help textbook fees

A Student Government (SG) senator has launched a resolution aimed at informing students of pricey textbooks – again.

Christopher Biemer, chair of SG’s senate Committee on University Affairs, says USF has little compliance for a Florida law passed last year requiring all instructors to make textbook requirements public knowledge at least 30 days prior to the first day of class.

And the SG senate passed Biemer’s resolution – his second proposal involving textbooks in the last year – calling for better enforcement of the law last week. In the fall, Biemer wanted SG to inform students of more budget-friendly places to buy books other than the USF bookstore, but it never passed.

“We already pay a lot of money on tuition and fees,” said Lara McDermott, an SG senator for the College of Arts and Sciences who voted in favor of the resolution. “I’d rather not spend a lot of money on textbooks if I’m not going to be using them day in and day out.”

State lawmakers passed the Textbook Affordability Act after reports that textbook costs doubled over the past two decades because of inflation. In response, USF recently implemented Textbook Adoption and Affordability regulations to evaluate how professors inform students of textbook uses.

Vice Provost Dwayne Smith said he was surprised the SG resolution passed because of the existing regulations and did not think it accounted for special circumstances.

“There’s an endless number of reasons why somebody might not be able to conform to the regulations,” he said. “This will be especially true, for instance, if classes were scheduled late … In other cases, faculty members find that there’s a book that they intended to order and now they can’t get it so they’re having to order another one instead.”

Smith said there are currently no repercussions for faculty members who don’t adhere to the regulations.

“I think if the faculty members find themselves repeatedly in violation of this, they would probably have to do some explaining,” he said.

Biemer said he was unaware of the regulations already in place prior to passing the resolution, but he said the new resolution would serve as a “reminder” to follow it.

“I think there should be some sort of penalty but I don’t think it should be something that has employees worried about their positions,” he said. “That would be too much.”

Christian Marble, SG senator for the College of Arts and Sciences, wanted to postpone passing the resolution in order to collaborate with faculty and receive feedback.

“I thought (it could have) really strengthened the resolution,” he said. “I thought it was being rushed … It doesn’t hurt to get feedback on opinions.”

An additional issue included in the resolution asks for instructors to upload free materials via Blackboard for viewing and downloading and to list textbooks as optional in course syllabi if they are not critical to students’ success.

Biemer hopes this will encourage instructors to be less reliant on textbook choices that are not an important piece of the class.

“I personally consider textbooks a hidden tuition cost,” he said. “We interviewed dozens of students … earlier this year and discovered that many students are paying over $500 per semester sometimes for textbooks, which adds up to about 50 percent of tuition.”

Another portion of the resolution calls for professors to retain previous editions of required textbooks and include all information that students could be tested on in their class lectures.

The Orange Grove, a free online library sponsored by the Board of Governors was an option Biemer listed in his resolution.

The SEC will decide whether to bring this up with faculty members, Biemer said. He said now that the resolution has passed, it can formally be moved forward.

A resolution acts as an official expression of opinion on behalf of SG and can only serve as a recommendation to administrators.

“We might go to (administration) with what we’ve passed and say, ‘Here’s what SG thinks, can you help us send this out (to instructors)?'” he said.