This week in ESC, they debate everything about the textbook affordability initiative. They also have a quick closed meeting at the beginning. ESC Bureau Chief Lori Luo reports.
Textbook Affordability Initiative
The textbook affordability initiative is an initiative in progress in ESC and CCSC since the beginning of this school year. The core idea is to have a partnership with a large retailer (Barnes and Nobles) where Columbia can buy textbooks in bulk for students and be able to get them at a lower price. Under this plan, all students would be charged a uniform price ($270 if all students were enrolled) set by the retailer for all of their textbooks. Ideally, this initiative would save students money on textbooks. ESC has discussed it before and had generally approved of it, given that students would be allowed to opt-in or opt-out of the program.
Recently, the Deans and school administration have brought up removing the option to opt-out, therefore enrolling all students in the plan. One justification for this decision could be that it would keep the price at the lowest price possible per student with all the students. However, removing the opt-out option has led to backlash and unease among the student governments. To help decide whether or not to proceed with the initiative, the two student councils (ESC and CCSC) planned on releasing a survey to ask CC and SEAS students if they would support the initiative even if there was no opt-out option. ESC discussed whether or not to allocate funds towards this survey.
Regarding the initiative itself, ESC generally felt very strongly that mandating students to participate would be detrimental to the SEAS student population. Many argued that, unlike CC students, who are required to go through many books a year, SEAS students often either don’t use textbooks or obtain them somewhere else. Indeed, the plan would likely force SEAS students to pay considerably higher amounts than they would regularly pay on textbooks. One member even commented that the 270 dollar price tag was more than he had ever paid for textbooks so far at Columbia.
Other members felt that not having an opt-out option for an affordability initiative seemed problematic. For the populations that the plan would ideally benefit, such as students on partial financial aid, it may add an additional financial burden as many students get textbooks via other methods. Furthermore, even though the plan aims to focus on affordability, it never specifies how much money it would be saving students.
Many members in ESC additionally felt that the effort and resources put into the textbook affordability initiative could be redirected to help incoming students learn where to get free or reduced price textbooks, such as through Amazon or the Columbia libraries. Other options to where the resources could be redirected to help students obtain textbooks, such as a digital library where students could digitally download textbooks for a term. This solution would be welcome especially since many students prefer to have textbooks on a computer or tablet instead of paper copies. In line with this idea, Class of 2020 Class Representative Youngjae Ryu suggested using the resources to improve CLIO’s database with more textbooks rather than strike a deal with an external company.
Moreover, Class of 2023 Class President Avi Gupta questioned how exactly the initiative showed Columbia aiming to help with affordability. The initiative simply seems to be Columbia buying textbooks in bulk, not subsidizing books. While the idea is to save students money via buying in bulk, most students aren’t currently buying their textbooks from the bookstore. If anything, Columbia is only reducing student options to buy textbooks from another place. He pressed the issue, stating that if Columbia isn’t actively doing anything, they aren’t helping with affordability.
Gupta questioned the purpose of spending funds to conduct a survey, given that there was a clear consensus on the council against having no opt-out option and that the general student body likely would reflect that sentiment. In response, President of Policy Estevan Mesa clarified the fund allocation. He noted that he had reached out to CCSC to make a joint survey, but two days after agreeing to collaborate, CCSC asked ESC to help pay for an iPad and airpods to raffle off. This request made ESC uneasy, because the decision to buy an iPad and airpods was made without ESC input, especially since $300 is a large amount.
Furthermore, another ESC member felt that it seemed strange to have extremely expensive prizes to encourage an affordability initiative. Furthermore, it would only seem as if the student councils were throwing money frivolously towards the problem.
Ultimately, ESC voted on three motions.
Motion 1 was to approve allocating funds ($300) for survey prizes and tabling for the survey. This motion did not pass.
Motion 2 was for ESC to advertise the survey in all their newsletters and social media. This motion did not pass.
Motion 3 was regarding if SEAS should continue to be a part of the Textbook Affordability initiative. If so, it would be a line-item in Engineering Tuition. This motion had three sub-proposals. Proposal 1 was continuing the initiative without the opt-out option and with the same cost as with CC, keeping the university under one plan. This proposal was rejected. Proposal 2 was continuing the initiative without an opt-out option, but ESC would try to negotiate a different price than CC. This proposal was also rejected. Proposal 3 was continuing the initiative, but only with an opt-out option. This proposal passed ESC 15-9.
Textbooks via Wikimedia