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Requiring textbooks for courses outdated

Second semester at Brandeis begins about a week before most schools, which I have been told is due to our February break. Unlike the start of first semester, there’s maybe an afternoon and an evening to unpack and get ready for the next day’s classes. Things start up again, not quite in full force but getting there quickly.

One thing professors do immediately is assign readings from the required texts. I understand this is college, and I’m not complaining about the workload. However, most people I know don’t buy their books immediately. Whether they’re shopping their classes or planning to buy the books online for a much more reasonable price, the campus bookstore doesn’t seem to be all that crowded the first few weeks of school.

Renting from the bookstore is generally a more reasonable option. You might end up saving a grand total of $20, but when online options are sometimes $100 cheaper than the store price, most people are willing to wait to get their materials. The issue arises when professors assign reading from the books during the shopping period. Unless they upload the assignments to LATTE or provide online links, students can’t reasonably be expected to do that part of the homework. The library only holds a few copies on reserve, and it certainly doesn’t have every required text.

“But Shayna,” someone might ask, “why not just buy books? You can resell them after you’ve taken the class.” No one will ask this, of course, because selling textbooks is not exactly making a profit. Just try and offer your organic chemistry textbook for $220 next semester and see how many takers you get.

Sometimes, the books are brand-new editions, and renting is not an option for that text. Good luck trying to find a reasonably priced new edition online; you might save a little money, but either way, textbooks are expensive.

If you’re willing and able to buy from the bookstore, you won’t fall behind on the readings. Or at least you won’t have the excuse of not having the book to fall back on. Professors can and should post the readings they assign during the shopping period on LATTE, or they should hold off on assigning readings from the textbook.

What is particularly frustrating for many students—and I’m confident that I’m not just speaking for myself here—is having required textbooks that don’t end up being used enough during the course to justify purchasing or renting them. If a professor doesn’t like a textbook or doesn’t refer to it much, readings on LATTE are a viable option.

I don’t see the downside of putting all sections of required reading on LATTE throughout the entire semester. Buying books wouldn’t be significantly discouraged, because many people are more comfortable using a physical copy. Binders and notebooks would still be available at the university bookstore. Workbooks would still have to be physically purchased.

Most professors are aware of this, and do upload the earlier assigned readings to LATTE. They tend to be understanding of the fact that not everyone’s orders have come through. If all professors would commit to this, students would be less likely to fall behind and the instructors wouldn’t be behind on teaching the material.

Books tend to arrive in the mail fairly quickly, but accidents happen and packages get misplaced. Students shouldn’t have hundreds of pages of reading to catch up on in the second or third week of class because of time constraints and human error. Not all start-of-the-semester stress can be accounted for and mitigated, but the issue of falling behind because you don’t have your books yet is an easy one for the administration to solve.

The evidence I have for all of this is anecdotal. The methodology is suspect, and I don’t have actual data to back this up beyond “an experience I see a lot.” I’ve never taken a research methods class—I just don’t want to buy books for class.

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