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Professors Challenge Cost of Textbooks

Hundreds of instructors nationwide and at UCLA send a letter to a publishing firm protesting frequent costly new editions.

April 08, 2005|Natasha Lee | Times Staff Writer

Criticizing the high cost of college textbooks, hundreds of professors at UCLA and nationwide asked a publishing firm Thursday to stop printing frequently revised editions of its textbooks that the teachers say hike prices and make cheaper used books obsolete.

In a group letter to Thomson Learning Inc., about 700 math and physics professors from 150 universities expressed particular concern over the cost of the company's introductory physics textbook.

The faculty members assert that the material in "Physics for Scientists and Engineers," now in its sixth edition, has had few revisions that validate the printing of a new, higher-priced edition. The hardback textbook, available new on the Thomson website for $134.96, was revised and printed in 2004, four years after its previous edition.

"It's not that we don't want textbooks changed; we just want it when it's justified," said UCLA assistant professor Rainer Wallny, who teaches an introductory physics course.

Wallny was among 20 UCLA professors supporting the protest letter, which was organized with the California Student Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG). That student organization has been critical of the high cost of textbooks over the last few years.

Officials at Thomson Learning, which is based in Stamford, Conn., could not be reached for comment.

According to CALPIRG, U.S. college students spend an average of $900 a year on textbooks. CALPIRG released a report in February that accused the textbook industry of packaging books with additional instructional materials such as CD-ROMs as a way to increase prices.

Bruce Hildebrand, executive director for higher education with the Assn. of American Publishers, which represents many publishers of college textbooks, said that the CALPIRG figures are skewed and that Thursday's protest was another unmerited attempt to criticize the industry.

"This is an absolutely free market," Hildebrand said. "A professor can choose to buy or not to buy any textbook he or she wants. There are literally thousands of choices."

Many students, however, hope the letter will prompt the publishing company to lower its prices.

"Textbook prices are driving me up the wall," said UCLA junior Sonia Shakoori, 20. Shakoori said she's already spent $500 this school year on textbooks for her liberal arts studies. "It's good that professors are taking a stand."

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