Textbook prices strangling students

Last quarter I stood outside the PSU ‘cooperative’ bookstore and listened to First District U.S. House Representative David Wu lament the prices of textbooks in American university bookstores. Behind me a man grunted, shouted, and amen-ed his approval. I was less verbal in my endorsement, but couldn’t help but wholeheartedly agree with Rep. Wu. However, growing tired of his well-meaning speech on the red steps of the Urban Plaza, I still had no choice but to continue my trudge into the bookstore to purchase books I already knew were wildly overpriced.

As I walked away, Rep. Wu was still thrusting books into the air and comparing our bookstore prices to prices from non-American based websites. And, yes, we, as students, are getting ripped off (as if we needed a politician to tell us). Again, I had no choice but to buy the books that were required for my class in the first weeks because the reading assignments needed immediate attention. I could not wait for the texts to ship from unknown owners throughout the world, nor could I locate a student willing to sell theirs. $250 in book fees, though, demanded that I find other solutions.

In my opinion there are several things that must be done:

1) ASPSU or Student Activities and Leadership (SALP) or anybody who declares that they are representing student interests must re-organize that now-defunct book swap. Several years ago the book swap was declared the path to which students could find financial salvation. Unfortunately, it was a bureaucratic mess with unnecessary registration forms, waivers to sign and student volunteers who were more concerned with their own schedules than the textual needs of their fellow students (and who could blame them, really). The book swap need not be more than a central, large bulletin board where students (both buyers and sellers) can post flyers about books. Already, SALP manages dozens of bulletin boards for posters pertaining to PSU and non-PSU activities. The Book Bulletin Board (BBB), catchy isn’t it, would need minimal maintenance and students would no longer need to dash from building to building hoping for a glimpse of a flyer from a student selling the books they need. As simple as it is, it has not been done and this should be a priority for anyone who claims to represent students.

2) Departments and professors must make it a priority to place syllabi for upcoming classes in the department before the ensuing quarter begins. There is no need for students to wait until the first day of class, syllabi are not a ‘surprise’, nor are they a ‘secret’. With all due respect to faculty and staff, considering that freshmen are learning how to build simple web-sites in University Studies Freshman Inquiry classes, there is no compelling reason that professors cannot link syllabi for upcoming classes to department websites. This, in the very least, would provide students time to search the Internet for lower textbook prices.

3) I urge Rep. Wu to continue his championing of the issue and, especially, to be increasingly critical of non-American websites who refuse to ship drastically lower priced textbooks to the United States. This is unfair, hurts students, and perpetuates the stranglehold of American bookstores over student consumers.

Purchasing textbooks at unfair prices only deepens a student’s alienation from the knowledge that is supposedly within. Every quarter I talk with my peers who are in financial turmoil over the escalating costs of an education at Portland State University. Increasing financial aid is only one, albeit tepid, response to this crisis. And I do not believe calling it a crisis is overstating-a student that cannot stay enrolled in a required Spanish or Chemistry class because the textbook price tag reads almost half that of the tuition is a student unfairly denied the opportunity that was promised when tuition was paid. It is time for students, faculty and staff to negotiate a response to the preposterous prices of textbooks.