California Student Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) members joined UC Berkeley faculty and the Associated Students of the University of California on the steps of the Martin Luther King Student Union Tuesday to demand open textbooks in colleges across United States.
Brandishing a poster comparing high-priced textbooks with free open textbooks, the group released a petition signed by 1,000 professors from 300 colleges announcing their preference for high-quality, affordable textbooks—including open textbooks—over what they said were “expensive commercial textbooks.”
Open textbooks, which are still at a fledgling state, are complete, reviewed textbooks written by academics that can be used online for free.
“What sets them apart from conventional textbooks is their open license, which allows users flexibility to use, customize and print the textbook,” said UC Berkeley geography major and CALPIRG member Genki Hara, who worked on the open textbook petition this semester.
Hara said that open textbooks were used at some of the nation’s largest institutions, including the California community colleges and the Arizona State University system, as well as universities such as Harvard, Caltech and Yale.
According to a study by the Government Accountability Office, students spend on an average $900 per year on buying textbooks, which is a quarter of tuition at an average four-year public university and nearly three-quarters of tuition at a community college.
“I spent $750 to $900 in my freshman year on textbooks,” Hara tols the Planet. “It was a financial burden since I support myself and rely on financial aid. Open textbooks are much more affordable and some of them have equivalent quality compared to conventional textbooks.”
Hara said although none of his current classes have incorporated open textbooks, most of his professors used online materials as course reading.
Proponents of open textbooks also argue that publishers update textbooks every two or three years, which they said was unnecessary.
UC Berkeley geography lecturer Darin Jensen spoke in favor of open textbooks.
Although Jensen doesn’t use open textbooks for his class on cartographic representation, which teaches how to make maps, he has given his students an alternative to buying textbooks for the last seven years.
“I provide my students with a reader which has content from textbooks and articles,” he said. “Making course content available to students for free is great. I would love to use open textbooks, but it is not available in my discipline. The textbook industry has a stranglehold on students’ textbooks. They dictate what content is available to students and what they put in their textbooks. Teachers are constrained by what publishers want. We should be doing our best to make course content available to students easily.”
Jensen uses an authorized reader service to steer clear of breaking copyright infringement laws.
“The last time I checked, the list price for the textbook required for Geography 183, the course I teach, was $98,” he said. “My reader costs $28. That’s a savings of $70. The students incur the printing charges, but they can print out only the pages they need.”
Although open textbooks face several challenges, including the shortage of online materials, CALPIRG students have escalated their criticism of textbook publishers recently.
“I understand that publishers need to make profit but I feel like they are really putting a monopoly on the market and forcing students to pay obscene prices for books,” said UC Berkeley junior Pardeese Ehya, who recently transfered from a community college.
“At my community college enrollment kept dropping because the cost of text- books was often more than that of tuition.”
Ehya, who is majoring in Mass Communications, said he spent $250 on textbooks this semester at UC Berkeley.
“None of my classes uses open text books but I was able to find an open text book endorsed by an East Coast private school which I have often used for one of my courses,” he said.