Comments on the Book Price Symposium held at Kennedy King on 2/27/2015

One week ago, I received the following forwarded email:

“Colleagues,

I hope all is well.  As the Provost stated below, Academic Governance Compliance Educational Quality will convene a symposium with Department Chairs, Faculty members and Administrators. The invited faculty member should be the faculty responsible for making book adoption selections.

The symposium will allow faculty to review data on textbook selections, purchases/cost, and opportunities for cost savings for City Colleges of Chicago students while at the same time maintaining educational quality.

The event will take place Friday, February 27th (8:30 am to 4:30 pm) at Kennedy-King College, U Building located at 6301 S. Halsted, Chicago, IL, 60621. Continental Breakfast will be served at 8:30 am and the session will be start at 9:15 am in the Theater.

 We would like to invite the Department Chairs/Faculty members in the following disciplines:

  • English 98, 100, 101, 102
  • Mathematics 98, 99, 125, 118
  • Computer Information Systems (CIS) 121
  • Biology 121, 126
  • Microbiology 233
  • Chemistry 121
  • Psychology 201
  • Reading 125
  • Speech 101

 Could you please help by sharing this email with your Department Chairs/Faculty members in the following disciplines?

To RSVP, please click here

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Best Regards,

Preston L. Harden

Associate Vice Chancellor

City Colleges of Chicago”

I received 4 copies of this email over the course of the next few days. And in a few conversations I had with colleagues, it seemed this was to be a District initiative to require courses across colleges to have the same textbooks. Of course, all of us would be angry to have our textbook choices dictated by District so I went to the meeting prepared to do battle for our academic freedom. I don’t know how that rumor was started, but I didn’t hear anything about requiring the same book for classes with multiple courses across campuses. We as faculty need to calm down. District is not out to get us…all the time.

I was late because I got lost so I missed the Student Panel Discussion. I walked in on a discussion of how to properly order books in the Akademos system. There was a helpful powerpoint about how to submit book orders and the best part was Pam Mueller from Akademos, getting up and responding to questions and concerns. I would highly recommend that the powerpoint be made available to everyone and that Pam Mueller visit every City College Campus to address the concerns of faculty. It would be incredibly helpful to speak to the person actually in charge of much of this, not an AV who isn’t in the classroom and who doesn’t work for Akademos.

The least helpful part of the day was District Data. I’ll try to explain but my eyes rolled back into my head after 60 seconds of discussion.

We were given a handout with bar charts from 31 courses. What was supposed to be reflected was the total cost to students for a course. That cost would include the textbook and equipment needed for a specific course like Speech 101 or Biology 121. There was a graph which illustrated the cost of that course across campuses. So looking at the graph, one would wonder why Truman and HW had such expensive text/equipment for Bio 121 compared to Wright or Daley. Well, here’s why….when the statistician received the date from Akademos, the data included ALL the student options for purchasing the textbook/equipment. So, if you allow your students to buy a text book, OR rent a textbook, OR buy an ebook, OR buy an access code etc., it was all included in the total. So HW and Truman in the previous example allowed students more buying options. What was reflected in the graphs was not the total cost per student per course across campus. It had nothing to do with the total cost. It was irrelevant. Faculty pointed it out, district personnel agreed and then called for us to have a conversation.

I found this event to be baffling in a number of ways. First, do the people at District think that Faculty never consider price when buying books? Do district folks think faculty folks don’t talk about these issues? We think about this all the time. If you go back into FC4 minutes, or individual faculty council minutes or Technology in Education Day symposium events or Faculty Development Week workshops, you will see year after year after year of faculty wrestling with how to prepare our students at the lowest cost available. District found out with the complete FUBAR of Akademos how awful book prices are. Faculty have known this always. We have been dealing with this, by department, by discipline, by college, for time immemorial. District seems to have just discovered ‘fire’. We’ve known about the fire and have been working on ways to put it out FOREVER.

Second, what was the point of the meeting again? And why was it so urgent? If it was to inform us about textbook adoption, that should be on a campus- to- campus basis with all faculty invited. Every full-time faculty member is responsible for choosing his or her own text and we should be properly instructed on the reasons and the how for ordering books with this new system. If it was to have Pam Mueller respond to Akademos concerns, that should also be on a campus-by-campus basis so all our specific concerns could be addressed by someone with knowledge.

If the point was to show us the cost of class materials across sections, that was an epic fail.

Third…I could go on but I might be getting petty. I’m a bit hungry from the lunch provided for the event. The vegetarian option was not very tasty.

At the end of the day, I appreciate that district is concerned about student costs; so am I, so are most of my colleagues. I believe this has been, and will continue to be, a topic of discussion on all seven separately accredited city of Chicago college campuses.

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