Tuesday, June 09, 2009
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?