Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Casebook Scam

I serve on two on two University committees, one of which deals with grievances and professional ethics. Surprising as it may seem, what I have learned makes me feel better about what goes on at the Law School. Here is one example of a scam that seems over the line.

A Professor teaching hundreds of students requires them to hand in homework on workbook pages custom made for his course. The books are available at the local Kinkos and sold at a profit. Students may not hand anything but the actual purchased pages. Evidently, handing in the correct workbook pages has an impact on the final grade. The professor takes a cut of the sales. The Dean of the College where he works is evidently unconcerned. (This newest practice is evidently a replacement for one that required buying CDs with codes in them so that actual purchase could be verified.)

Outrageous! . . . In the words of Lee Corso, “Not so fast my friend.”

Hasn’t the professor simply perfected the casebook editor/casebook publisher scam. Think about it. Is there a principled distinction between that professor and authors (clearly not just in law) who happily issue a new edition whether a new one is warranted. In fact, I recently received the new edition of a casebook I have used for years. It took an extensive search to find what was different. In addition, since the demand side of the market is, for all practical purposes, composed of professors who dictate which books will be bought, how are those professors different from a stock broker who mishandles a client’s portfolio?

I'd like to pin this indifference on class bias but I am not not sure I can. My own behavior is similar to that of the privileged. When the memo comes out each semester asking what the assigned materials are for the following semester, I typically name the book and add “latest edition.” In reality, when teaching contracts, I think I could almost get by with the classic Kessler and Gilmore (now that was casebook scholarship!) I had as a student many years ago. If so, that means I have cost 20 years of contracts students many thousands of dollars that went to publishers and editors without any substantial change what goes on in the classroom.

I admire the very small handful of my colleagues who keep using an older edition of a book even when newer editions are created in reaction to the used market. I have done it myself but it means complications. I admire even more the casebook editor who, when Thomson or Aspen comes calling about a new edition, says “there is no need for one.” Isn’t legal eduction, where the choir claims to be so concerned about the welfare of others, the best place to begin drawing the line when to comes to exploiting students via the casebook scam? Or, do you need the eggs?


Anonymous said...

Speaking of casebooks, they should stop using those things.

Using hornbooks and outlines are probably better. Class time would be better utilize, if there were dozens of hypotheticals analyzed during class, using the rules from hornbooks and canned outlines.

It could be argued that students will not know, then, how to read a case.

I'd argue that,that's not a real worry because students can read cases in writing/practice classes.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of jam-packed m-f 10-3 schedules, 9-credit hours per faculty member, and teachers who exploit their authorship; What can be done to change that? It seems utterly ridiculous that teachers are only responsible for 9 credit hours of teaching, especially since they are teaching subjects (unless they are new teachers) that they have probably taught before (hence lesson plan is probably already done or needs little to no modification) UF could lower the student teacher ratio if teachers taught the same class twice a semester (also increasing time availability for students)
How can students even fight that system if they wanted to?

Jeffrey Harrison said...

If you follow this blog you know that administrators cannot displease faculty too much or the faculty will fire them. This is the case even if the administrators have the right instincts. On the other hand, you have underestimated the power of student, especially if enough unite. Blogs, letters to the editor, to the President and to the Deans themselves give them (the administrators) something to point to when raising standards for faculty. And, if more than a few are concerned, administrators will respond -- they are very sensitive to outside adverse publicity.

eric said...

When I was an undergrad, there was a professor, a prominent Marxist social theorist, who assigned his own books for his courses, but gave each student back the amount he received per copy, and also personally inscribed the books. I thought that was a class act (sic!).

I've been thinking very seriously of trying to adopt more open source material for my courses, to save students the outrageous expense of casebooks. In this age of everything-on-the-web, it is not so clear to me that most casebooks have such well-edited cases or such illuminating notes and supplemental material, as to justify the cost over letting students get the complete cases for free online.

This is just one of the endless list of reasons that I will never be considered a "serious person" by most law professors. I'm pretty sure I can live with that.

Anonymous said...

"And some of you are curious whether you should just buy the old edition because it's cheaper; the old edition won't do you any good."

-Lynn Baker, speaking to her gullible first-year property students who didn't realize there was no meaningful difference between the two editions, and who also didn't realize that, because one of her articles was in the book, the difference between the two editions wasn't Professor Baker's primary concern.