Coffee heat rising

A post with no title: What can one say?

It’s 9:30 at night and the temperature on the back porch, which has been in the shade all day, is 100 degrees.

Brain’s temperature is somewhere in that vicinity, too. Today reminded me of why I love teaching so bitterly.

Several weeks ago, I spent about eight hours writing an Eng. 102 syllabus and another six to eight hours on an Eng. 101 syllabus. By the time you add all the college’s required boilerplate, one of these things is about 16 single-spaced pages long. Some of said pages are very complex, indeed: braids of the textbook author’s ideas of what the students should learn and what they should already know entertwined with your ideas of what they should learn and what you know your students most certainly will not already know and the college’s idea of what some lawyer on the District board thinks they ought to know and what some veteran of the trenches knows they don’t know and may never figure out.

So I felt pretty good about creating a creditable product, all those weeks ago.

In the interim, the college jettisoned its Eng. 101 text and took on an entirely new text from an entirely different publisher. No problem: there’s only so many ways you can express what an Eng. 101 student needs to learn (if learn she will). It’s all pretty fungible. Recreating the revised 101 syllabus took only about two or three additional unpaid hours.

Then came the announcement that lo! We have a new edition of the Eng. 102 text.

New edition. Why do textbook publishers keep churning out new editions? Because of the lucrative market in textbook resales. At the end of any given semester, college bookstores buy back used textbooks from students who would just as soon never be reminded that they took any of the courses they paid for that semester (about 90 percent of all students, I’d guess). Bookstores buy the books back for ludicrously low prices. Then they resell them for a profit to used-book dealers, who shuffle them around and reconsign them to the college bookstores, who re-resell them to the next batch of students at yet another profit.

Result? Neither the author nor the publisher makes anything on the resale and the re-resale of used textbooks. To continue to make their marginal profit, publishers a) have to jack up the prices of textbooks through the stratosphere (, which regularly underprices college bookstores, is selling the new edition of the 102 text for $78.10), and b) have to grind out new “editions” every two or three years. Each semester a new edition comes out, every single student has to pay the full freight, because no used copies are available. Which is the point.

Secondary result? Instructors get to die with overwork trying to keep up with the shit.

Our textbook author reshuffled her contents so that, although the underlying pedagogical message remained the same, readings were partly deleted, partly reshuffled, and partly changed. To salvage the course plan I’d created…oh, my god. I started around 9:00 this morning and finished at quarter to nine in the evening. During that time I got up twice to pee, and I was interrupted once by SDXB, who killed the better part of an hour talking about himself, and by a volunteer for the Mayo Clinic, who wasted about 10 minutes with a stupid customer service survey. I spent almost ELEVEN HOURS trying to untangle the mess made by the fake “new edition” whose purpose was to pluck the feathers of yet another incoming class of freshmen.

Sumbitch. Not one minute of this time was paid for. My pay for teaching these courses starts when I walk in the classroom door…not during the untold hours I spend preparing the classes.

Academia. What a scam!

5 thoughts on “A post with no title: What can one say?”

  1. Need I say: do NOT do your syllabus till the last minute!

    My school has a text rental system. I hated it at first, but now that my kids are in college I see the point. $18.00 per course for 2 books.

    Some enterprising kids started an e-rental system.

  2. @ frugalscholar: Hm. I’ve not heard of a text rental at GDU. That would be too considerate of the students’ welfare. We don’t do that. 😉

    Wonder if a person could…wow! If you were doing that for this university, at $9 a book you could clean up. The main campus alone has over 40,000 students, and before the crash our beloved president was aiming for a student body of 100,000. You might be able to extract a bookstore discount from publishers.

    Imagine. Eighty bucks for a freshman composition text! It’s not like it’s full of four-color illustrations or complex formulae and tables (the latter are generated on the ultracheap through LaTex, anyway!). This is a garden-variety $12 paperback. Inexcusable.

    I hate not having my syllabus ready to go. The way my life is, some crazy complication always comes up just as some project approaches deadline, converting the effort to get the project done on time into some kind of living hell. Also, I highly resent working for free over the summer, so I normally (when paid on a regular nine-month basis) prepare the fall syllabi before the end of spring semester.

  3. The bookstore at my college did price-matching on offers from Internet booksellers. Our textbook for Behavior of Mammals was this gorgeous, enormous, full-color, coffee-table book of mammals, and Amazon was selling it on a steep sale for something like $10. That made the students very happy and the bookstore probably very unhappy.

    My school also had a website that someone made where students could advertise their used textbooks to each other. That was also much cheaper than the bookstore. Of course, that only worked because a lot of the required intro courses have found textbooks that have been the same for many, many years, and those courses have fossilized around those texts. (One of my profs actually required an old edition of the textbook- she said the new one was too thick.) Most of my upper-level courses didn’t use textbooks but instead relied on articles, which we could access for free on the campus internet.

    • @ synapse: This morning I met with the librarian at PVCC. He said the college is seriously considering eliminating textbooks and using open-access sources. Not because they didn’t love textbooks, but because the cost has become so crushing for students they’re searching for ways to relieve the kids.

      Open-access, then, has the capacity to put textbook publishers out of business. Talk about killing the goose that laid the golden egg!

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