Faculty: Bring the Books Back

Dear President Patton, Dean Lloyd, Provost Cason, and Executive Vice President Provost:  

We, the undersigned, write to request that the college restore the book ordering function to the campus store in order to ensure timely and reliable supply of the books that are necessary for classes in the first weeks of the semester and beyond. The current system has had a significant negative pedagogical impact for the following reasons:

• Students do not (and will not, going forward) purchase books through the online system in advance because they are not sure about their schedules and, not unreasonably, don’t want to spend large sums on books they might not need. We have now had two semesters to test out this system, and the record is clear that students have not changed their purchasing patterns.

• This situation is exacerbated by the demands of the drop/add period. Students who shift classes during this period have even more difficulty catching up and getting the appropriate books than regularly enrolled students.  

• There are significant delays in ordering books through the MBS system—up to two or even three weeks. Under the current system, students have no way to get immediate access to the books for reading assignments required during the early weeks of the semester.

• Trying to reduce delivery delay costs our students extortionate amounts in shipping costs. This problem obviously disproportionately affects lower income students.  

• Because of these delays, students do not have the books when they begin class, causing faculty to scramble to introduce their courses and move through their syllabi with students who don’t yet have access to books.

• When students do finally locate books from various sources, they are often not the editions the professor ordered. This makes class discussion difficult, and again compromises the students’ access to the selected material.

• Professors are spending valuable time during the early weeks of the semester photocopying materials and trying in other ways to help increasingly anxious students chase down books; the process wastes both faculty and student time.

 The lack of books at the beginning sends a negative signal to students not only about the value of books themselves, but also about the absolute necessity (in an already short semester) to jump directly in to the course material and get to work.

• The whole situation has a significant negative impact on the central thing—teaching—that we do. It undermines the process and experience of teaching and learning, as well as sending a message that course materials are devalued or irrelevant.

We wish to underscore the fact that these problems are in no way the responsibility of the various staff members who have had the difficult task of implementing this system. The fault is entirely in the system itself. We believe that this effort to save costs by cutting the presence of physical books in our bookstore sends the wrong message about our values as a Liberal Arts institution, and we cannot support it. If the college does not resume a system that guarantees our students access to physical books at the beginning of the semester, we will be forced to place these orders at other local venues or to find other means to ensure our students have what they need and deserve.

We understand that the Senior Leadership of the college is aware of the severity of the problem; we appreciate their efforts to rectify an untenable situation, and hope that a solution will be found as quickly as possible.

Sincerely,

Department of English and 

American Literatures

Department of Theatre

Louisa Burnham (HIST)

Jane Chaplin (CLAS)

Maggie Clinton (HIST)

Nikolina Dobreva (FMMC)

Murray Dry (PSCI)

Paul Monod (HIST)

Michael Sheridan (SOAN)

John Spackman (PHIL)

Carly Thomsen (GSFS)

Marc Witkin (CLAS)

Martha Woodruff (PHIL)

Don Wyatt (HIST)

Editor’s Note: This letter reflects the views of the Department of English & American Literatures as a whole and came after a discussion during a department meeting. The letter was then circulated among other faculty members who had expressed interest in the issue. 

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Faculty: Bring the Books Back